At Catholic Services of Acadiana, we strive to carry out the seven corporal works of mercy through every project and program we administer. Every corporal work calls upon people of goodwill to meet the unmet human needs of others - that’s the “corporal” part. Equally as important, all seven corporal works of mercy ask us to compassionately identify with the poor and marginalized members of society - that’s the “mercy” part. If you’ve never personally experienced hunger, homelessness, poverty, or imprisonment, truly identifying with the populations we serve at Catholic Services can be difficult. But when you visit with real people during times in their lives when they are on the receiving end of the corporal works of mercy, you begin to realize that the line between offering and receiving corporal works is incredibly thin.
As a Housing Coordinator, I work to carry out a specific corporal work of mercy: to find housing for men, women, and children experiencing homelessness. CSA administers several different programs that secure permanent housing for families and individuals based on their needs and their housing history. The Rapid Rehousing Program assists clients with their housing search and provides anywhere between one and three months of temporary rental support before the client maintains their own housing finances.
One of my first Rapid Rehousing clients came to our office with a broken arm and explained that he had been sleeping outside in a park for over a week. He had been living only a few pay checks ahead of his household’s expenses when he was struck by a car on his bike ride to work. The collision resulted in an injury that temporarily prevented him from being able to return to his manual labor employment duties.The client’s boss could only offer him part-time light labor until his arm healed. The unexpected medical bills and sudden loss of income left an otherwise healthy, steadily employed Veteran without a place to sleep at night. Fortunately, CSA’s Rapid Rehousing Program helped him re-enter permanent housing and get back on his feet before returning to work full-time.
Another person needing assistance at Catholic Services of Acadiana is the sole provider for his wife and two young children. When he suffered a stroke that physically prevented him from returning to work, he and his family lost their housing stability along with their income. A sudden disability is a lot for a family to handle, not to mention the added stresses of homelessness. Catholic Services of Acadiana’s emergency shelters were able to provide temporary shelter for the family until they began to receive their monthly disability income. As soon as their financial situation improved and they could sustain their own permanent housing, they were referred to the Rapid Rehousing Program and moved into their own rental apartment shortly after.
Having never experienced homelessness myself, I did not expect to be able to relate to my clients’ housing crises. But these stories, and many others I hear on a daily basis, remind me that homelessness could happen to anyone. It is not unusual for me to run into my clients working at restaurants I frequent or to hear that their children attend the same schools my cousins attend. The “mercy” part of the corporal works of mercy takes on a whole new meaning when you allow yourself to realize that your classmate, your coworker, or your waiter could all be experiencing homelessness, and that the difference between your situation and theirs is really not that different at all.
Molly Richard has been a housing coordinator at Catholic Services of Acadiana since 2015. She graduated from Univeristy of Southern Mississippi majoring in World Religions with a focus on Human Rights. She served as a volunteer in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Billings, Montana, specifically working with local farmers and community leaders on industry-related policies relating to water and land rights. She has returned to her roots in Lafayette and is happy to be helping people in crisis in our community.