Friends of The Poor

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Story told by Fr. David Convertino, Aug 01 2017

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“Why can’t they pick themselves up off the street and get a job like everyone else?” We often hear people ask this question when confronted with the issue of homeless in New York City, or in any major city in the world.  The simple answer is, many of them are not like everyone else. Studies show that 25% of homeless New Yorkers are people living with serious mental illnesses.

Serious mental illness can disrupt a person’s ability to carry out the essential aspects of daily life, such as self-care, forming and maintaining stable relationships and maintaining good physical health. Any combination of these factors can make it impossible for some people to obtain employment and achieve residential stability.

Two Franciscan Friars, Fr. John Felice and Fr. John McVean were the first to offer a comprehensive solution to the problem of homelessness in New York City.  They provided permanent housing with supportive services at the first St. Francis Residence in 1980 under the title, “St. Francis Friends of the Poor.”

Today, there are three St. Francis Residences which serve 287 people, many of whom were formerly homeless or mentally disabled and suffered years of personal and institutional neglect and abuse emotionally, psychologically and sexually before coming to the Residences.

At all the St. Francis Residences, each tenant lives in their own bright, clean room, very much a warm home environment, rather than the walls of a cold, asylum-like institution.  The Friars and staff plan activities such as walks to parks, visits to museums, picnics and courses in subjects like cooking and painting, which help enhance each resident sense of human dignity.

Weekly House Meetings, in which residents express their feelings about living in a community and how to improve their home, act as a form of therapy. Residents also take responsibility by volunteering for house jobs, many of which they have created. The St. Francis Residences also provide breakfast and lunch for the tenants on a daily basis.

For each of the 287 people the Friars care for, there are hundreds of other homeless still living on the streets unable to care for themselves.  When faced with this harsh reality, many look away and pretend that it’s not happening. Mental illness may not always be visible but it is a struggle for many of our sisters and brothers who come to our doors each morning in need of food, care, and compassion. By donating to the work of the Friars, you are letting those people know they are not forgotten or ignored.  Become a Friend of the Poor today.