Someone recently asked me what I thought was the best shelter service for the homeless. It is this, the St Vincent dePaul Center run by Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. This video is a recent fundraiser piece, so it has the fundraiser vibe going on. But it does show some of the very facilities I made use of in my time there.
Yes, the meals they offer are exceptional. Yes, everyone staying at the shelter is treated with a great deal of respect by the people employed there. There are no homeless people supervising other homeless people. The kitchen is run by a professional kitchen manager, so the food was always tasty and nutritious. The menu was posted weekly so people always knew what to expect and their was never any repetition of meals during the week. Security is provided by a well organized and professional security guard company, and because of this the shelter was free of violence.
The men in the work rehab program that I was involved with worked three days on the property, and two days in the day labor business that was run by the shelter. And every one got two days off a week. There were no restrictions on where a person could go, or when they could go there. AA and NA services were available but not mandatory. Counseling was always available, but not mandatory. If a person staying at the shelter was able to secure a real job, they were still allowed to stay in the shelter for up to two years and pay a minimal rent, and have no other obligations to the shelter.
There were several different dorms completely separated from each other. There was the dorm for the street homeless, to give them a place for the night. Then there was the work dorm for those in the work rehab program, and there was another dorm for those who had their own jobs outside the shelter. There was also a dorm for the older guys who could not work. There was an apartment building for people with disabilities who were on a fixed income and drawing social security.
In addition to the dormitories, there was a food stamp office on the property, their were services for recently relocated immigrants to assist them in getting used to their new home. There was a pair of restrooms near the entrance to the property that were left open 24 hours a day for anyone who needed it.
I remember back when I was staying there, they had a moto on their web site: “we serve a community, not a denomination.” Religion was not forced on anyone there, but everyone knew that religion was the reason for the place existing, so there was no need for constant reminders. The focus was on helping restore people’s lives, not on creating converts. Funny, but by restoring people’s lives they did make a few converts. Really, if a christian is doing it right, they won’t have to chase down converts, the converts will come to them. It’s the quality of the help given, not the quality of the sermon, that ultimate wins a person to Jesus.