Improving the lives of homeless individuals and families

Imagine providing a solution to the serious homelessness problem in Rapid City — helping homeless individuals and homeless families improve their quality of life, setting them up for success and long term stability. Shouldn’t that be the goal of every community which care about all of its citizens?

There is an initiative currently in progress in Rapid City to address this serious problem in our community. I do not know if everyone in our Catholic community is aware of this important initiative. This initiative is the work of the Rapid City Collective Impact, as stated on their website, “a community-supported initiative involving members of local government, nonprofits, faith-based communities, businesses, grass roots citizens and a backbone organization who share the common goal of improving quality of life in Rapid City. RCCI is a program of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.”

Their work focuses on three priorities —food security, behavioral health and affordable housing/homelessness — by creating a campus that would serve homeless by providing transitional housing and connected services in one location. The campus, known as One Heart: A Place for Hope & Healing, will encompass the majority of the former National American University properties, spanning much of the 100 to 300 blocks along the south side of Kansas City Street. It will neighbor and complement Pennington County’s Community Restoration Center.

The mission of this transformation campus is to elevate the human spirit and the spirit of the Rapid City community, improving quality of life for all who live in Rapid City and “to make Rapid City the most caring community of its size.”

What follows appeared recently as an op-ed in the Rapid City Journal in support for this important initiative in our local community.

Our Obligation to the Homeless

What is the responsibility of the Christian community in response to the Gospel call to serve the least among us — the most vulnerable and often neglected?

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, we find a consistent response to the poor. The health and holiness of Christian communities rested on their willingness to aid those in need, adhering to the teachings of the Christian church about the right use of material goods. The “community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common,” (Acts 4:32).

St. Paul was always mindful of the obligation to serve the poor. He clearly stated that disciples should participate in God’s generosity by offering relief for Jerusalem Christians, (Rom 15:25-27, 1 Cor 16:1-4, and 2 Cor 8-9).

The clearest call comes from Jesus himself in chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” (Mt 25:45). Perhaps this clarion call will be the final exam we face on this side of life.

It is easy to look at homelessness in Rapid City as someone else’s problem — the city, county or faith communities. This is a complex, largescale social problem which presents many challenges for those who seek solutions. No one organization can solve it singlehandedly. As a Christian community, we have an opportunity to stand strong, city-wide, to provide innovative, effective, comprehensive, local solutions.

I believe that the Rapid City Collective Impact is an important initiative for meeting these challenges directly.  The initiative addresses three priorities: food security, behavioral health and affordable housing/homelessness. This community-supported initiative can be instrumental in improving the quality of life and building a more caring community.

When we invest in the most vulnerable of our community in a responsible way, we will achieve long-term financial savings for our local government and, at the same time, provide comprehensive services to our most vulnerable in a more humanitarian way, thus upholding their God-given human dignity. Consolidating services would also allow precious resources to be more efficiently utilized, thus practicing good stewardship.

I support the proposed transformation campus – ONE HEART. One location where the community could provide transitional housing and many other needed services for our homeless would be a valuable asset, not only for those among us in need of such services, but for our community itself. It is clear that when people beaten down by circumstances in life are given a chance and the necessary resources to turn their lives in a new direction, inspiring things happen. They discover their own dignity in a new way and grow in the confidence that they can become the persons whom God has created them to be.

I recall the challenging words of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose aim was to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ, bringing hospitality to those on the margins of society – “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love least.”

I am deeply grateful for the business leaders whose leadership and support have led the way to bring this vision to life. Now Rapid City is graced with a great opportunity, from which we cannot turn away. Let us band together as a community and show compassion in a way that leads to a better quality of life for the least among us — the most vulnerable and often neglected.

 

Most Reverend Robert D. Gruss
Bishop of the Catholic
Diocese of Rapid City