PROVIDENCE — In the six years since the diocese renovated a shuttered day care center on the city’s South Side and reopened it as a ministry to care for the homeless, staff members are hard pressed to recall a night when the Emmanuel House shelter wasn’t operating at or above capacity.
The emergency overflow shelter, whose name derives from the welcoming presence of Jesus in the former diocesan Carter Day Care Center on Public Street, opened officially three days before Christmas in 2010. The focus of the new diocesan ministry was and remains to help communities meet a shortfall of beds per night for those who call the streets home.
Emmanuel House derives much of its support from the annual Catholic Charity Appeal, but also depends on grants and the generosity of the faithful from a number of parishes across the diocese who bring food and clothing, and others who have helped to make an impressive garden grow on the property, the bounty of which has fed guests of the shelter as well as others in need.
A wide and surprisingly varied group of individuals have called the shelter home through the years, including a talented and intelligent young man who once vied for a coaching position with the New England Patriots.
Not everyone here has reached the desperation point of being homeless through alcohol and substance abuse, as is often assumed by those on the outside.
Kevin McCourt is quick to dispel any preconceived notions anyone around him at the shelter may have about how he came to be there beginning last August.
“I lived in the same apartment for over 15 years, and I always paid the rent on time,” says McCourt, 65, who has a broadcaster’s voice and could pass for years younger than his stated age.
Although he always paid his bills on time, he lived pretty much paycheck to paycheck, with little savings to fall back on. When the Warwick tenement house he lived in was sold, the reality of the situation hit fast.
“I was totally unprepared,” he said during a recent interview at the shelter. “I was not even thinking ahead to what could happen.”
At first, McCourt, who said he has done voice work and other jobs in radio over a 30-year period, was in shock. He was always there for other people when they needed help, and here he was facing this sudden crisis alone.
“In reality, this can happen to anyone,” said McCourt, who now hopes to resurrect his former broadcasting career by taking some classes in the art to enhance on paper the vocal skills he has developed through the years.
When he finally found himself broke and homeless he heard about Emmanuel House.
The most important lesson that he has learned through this whole painful experience is one that comes from the Bible itself: that one should not judge another if they haven’t walked in their shoes.
“You learn to be more humble. You learn not to prejudge,” he says.
“Everyone needs some sort of help.”
According to James Jahnz, emergency services coordinator for the Diocese of Providence, the need for a safe, warm place to sleep at night for the homeless men that Emmanuel House now serves has not abated since the shelter opened in 2010.
“We’re filled to capacity with more than 35 each night and the need is especially acute during the winter months,” Jahnz said.
When Emmanuel House first opened, the shelter closed during the summer months until more than $50,000 in proceeds from the 2013 Lumen Gentium Awards Banquet enabled the diocese to keep the shelter open all year long, which it continues to do to this day.
The shelter is open each day from 7 p.m., when guests arrive and are treated to a simple meal, often donated by parishes from around the diocese, until 7 a.m., when they must leave for the day and the center shuts down.
The paid overnight staff at the shelter are members of the recovery community, and know all too well the personal struggles that many of the guests are going through.
“They are facing many obstacles, like having to come up with first and last month’s rent. They just can’t afford that,” says Dotty Perreault, who has served as director of Emmanuel House since shortly after it opened.
In addition to paying for staffing at Emmanuel House, the diocese must also cover the costs associated with the upkeep of the two-story brick shelter, including maintenance and utilities.
On certain days during the week, job coaching and other counseling assistance is provided to help the guests get back on their feet and into the community.
“They’ve helped me very well,” says Steven Foster, who says he has been a guest at Emmanuel House for four months and has been homeless for about a decade overall.
“The cost of living is too high. I’m working on trying to get an apartment,” adds Foster, who hails from Fort Worth, Texas.
The 60-year-old, who says he was raised as a Roman Catholic, said having to turn to the Church for help has renewed his spirit for a life he once knew, and has taught him the importance of self-respect.
“You’ve got to care about yourself too. If you show love, you’re going to get love,” he said.
During the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to be particularly attentive to ways they may exhibit God’s mercy by serving the needs of those in their communities and around the world. To offer a donation to help the numerous ministries served by the annual diocesan Catholic Charity Appeal, please visit: