Pope's visit to nonprofit to shine light on US poverty

WASHINGTON – Poverty in the United States has remained at a consistent high in the past five years. As Pope Francis visits here this week, he will meet some of the city’s poorest residents.

Census data released this month estimates the poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent, or 46.7 million people.

Catholic Charities USA served 8.7 million people in 2014, including Catholics and others. Half were adults younger than 65, 18 percent were senior citizens and 32 percent were children.

The national nonprofit’s mission is to work to reduce poverty in the United States.

With Pope Francis scheduled to arrive in the U.S. on Tuesday, the issue of poverty in relation to the Pope’s focus on the impoverished is a topic that Catholic Charities USA knows all too well.

Sister Donna Markham, the group’s president, said last week that everyone should be aware of poverty.  Catholic Charities USA spent more than $4.3 billion to assist poor people last year with a staff of 61,907 and 267,626 volunteers.

Markham said the pope’s visit will illuminate the issue and bring it to the forefront of people’s minds.

“As an expression of our faith and solidarity with Pope Francis, Catholic Charities is right now taking on the obligation to call to awareness the plight of those who are living in poverty,” Markham said.

The group hopes its #End45-Raise a Hand to End Poverty in America campaign will bring awareness to poverty and draw volunteers.

“There are a lot of judgments made about people who are poor suggesting that they should just go out and find a job,” Markham said. “Well, sometimes they are too distraught to even be able to get to that place, and I do think we started the campaign because most Americans don’t know the extent of the problem in this country.”

On average 7,784 people are homeless every day in D.C.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington worked with the District of Columbia to provide six emergency shelters to anyone in need and four traditional housing programs for people on the path to independent living.

Erik Salmi, the group’s director of communications, said there are misconceptions about homelessness.

“Some of the hardest working folks that I’ve met are our clients, and I’ve heard a saying that where you finish the race depends on where you start and I think that is especially true of the clients that we see,” Salmi said. “I think that is still a misconception that people think that they are just freeloading or that they have given up and that is just not true.”

Catholic Charities agencies across the country conduct outreach to understand what needs to be done to get people off the streets and place them in homes.

Nationwide, Catholic Charities has provided 524,010 housing services that can include emergency shelters and traditional housing programs.

Additional services include providing affordable housing, offering foreclosure prevention support, rental assistance, case management, housing search and information, home mortgage assistance and supervised living for those who are developmentally disabled, mentally ill and elderly.

Markham spoke about the influence some people served by Catholic Charities had on her.

“Throughout my own religious life, some of my most profound mentors have been the broken hearted and the marginalized often invisible to many of us,” Markham said.

Markham said that throughout her career as a clinical psychologist her teachers have often been those who suffer from severe cases of mental illness, who she said make up a large part of the homeless population.

Markham ended her talk with an excerpt from the pope’s homily given Jan. 3, 2014, at the Church of the Gesu in Rome, where he said, “An authentic faith always implies a deep desire to change the world.”

Reach reporter Amanda Guillen at amanda.guillen@scripps.com or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook, Instagram and follow us on Twitter.

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