"IT'S A "noble and frustrating mission," Neil Henry wrote about the work at McKenna House in his remarkable Post series. The series, completed last week, gave an account of the difficult and draining efforts of four Catholic clerics and a young but seasoned social worker to help turn around the lives of 15 homeless men. The experiment has been in operation for only eight months, but much has already been accomplished.
The residents of McKenna House were carefully chosen from among hundreds who live in the streets and in the city's shelters. Those with drug, alcohol and mental problems were excluded so efforts could be concentrated on those with the most promise. The priests and lay brother sought to provide a warm, clean home and help with health and grooming problems and the moral support these people needed so badly. The job counselor assisted in preparing resumes, coached the men for interviews and tirelessly called potential employers on their behalf.
None of this was easy for the men involved. Most showed the accumulated strain of years on the street, loss of self-esteem and lack of confidence in themselves. A few could not stick it out, returning to the grates and sidewalks where nothing was expected of them and failure was the norm, not a constant fear. Nor has this work been easy for the small group that has taken on the mission that is McKenna House. They started with high hopes -- Friar Jack Pfannenstiel expected to place 90 percent of the men in jobs -- and they invested not only time and energy in their work, but also faith that every man is worthy of effort, hope that each would be rehabilitated and love for the homeless as brothers.
Just over half the men in the first group at McKenna House found steady work and a new life, and that accomplishment is a triumph. It is not unique, for there are other good people all over the metropolitan area who are working with the homeless and who have taken on even those less promising cases who didn't qualify for McKenna House. But the Park Road project offers more than shelter and sustenance. It offers the prospect of self-respect, independence and jobs. That's a high goal for homeless men, but eight have already demonstrated that with resources, energy, determination and help, it can be done.