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These Catholic churches offer the homeless a place to sleep

J-P Mauro - published on 06/15/19

The Gubbio Project is helping use church pews to provide a safe place for the desperately poor.

In San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods, the desperately poor had nowhere to go where they could catch a few hours of sleep in peace and security. With few lifelines and in many cases some manner of disability, the homeless numbers in that area grew unabated, until 2004, when they reached crisis proportions. This is when Shelly Roder and Father Louis Vitale began the The Gubbio Project.

The Gubbio Project is run out of two local parishes, Saint Boniface’s in the Tenderloin, and St. John the Evangelist, in the Mission district. The non-profit organization describes its mission’s three goals: to provide the homeless with a safe place to rest during the day; to attend to the physical, social, psychological and spiritual well-being of homeless guests; and to cultivate a relationship between the community and their homeless neighbors.

The project confronts one of the most critical health issues of most homeless, mainly their lack of sleep. Starting at 6 a.m., while the front third of the church is preparing to celebrate daily Mass, the homeless are welcomed and provided space in the pews throughout the back two-thirds of the church, where they can take time to relax and catch some shuteye. In order remove all barriers of entry, the church asks no questions and takes no names. All are welcome.

The churches provide blankets, fresh socks, basic hygiene kits, foot care, chaplaincy services, referrals to outside resources, and even massage services. While visiting, homeless congregants are left to themselves to sleep, pray, or just sit and relax out of the elements.

The effort keeps the homeless present in the church in order to remind their parishioners that these are their neighbors as well. They work to establish a connection and understanding between the housed and unhoused, in the spirit of Pope Benedict’s guidance that we must treat our brothers and sisters with human dignity and remind them that “It is good [they] exist.”

While reminding regular parishioners that the homeless maintain a place within the church, celebrating Mass around those in dire straits reminds them, too, that they are not alone. The project provides opportunities for the two groups to interact with each other and care for each other’s needs.

The Gubbio Project draws its name from a town in Italy where, as legend has it, St. Francis negotiated peace between a frightened town and a wolf. As the project’s website explains:

Francis brokered a deal between the two parties in conflict by recognizing that with communication they could find common ground. In San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods, working poor people live next to desperately poor people and sometimes misunderstandings and conflicts occur. The Gubbio Project is a creative response to this situation—helping housed parishioners and visitors of the church connect with their unhoused neighbors.

The Gubbio Project is always looking for donations for its important work, accepts help in many forms, including money, provisions, and time. To find more information on how you can become a part of this wonderful work of mercy, click here.

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