Record grant will aid homeless

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

Like everyone else accustomed to potential computer scams, Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, is aware of the danger of responding to an email congratulating the recipient for winning a multimillion-dollar lottery and requesting only a banking account and a Social Security number to complete the transaction.

When Sister Marjorie received a phone call last month from Paul Dauber, who identified himself as a representative of the Bezos Day One Fund – one of the largest private philanthropic funds in the U.S. – she was told to expect an email in the next few days and not to discard it as a “phishing” expedition.

“He told me we would be a receiving an email from the foundation and to be on the lookout for it and not to dismiss it because it was valid and real,” Sister Marjorie said, smiling.

$5 million email

The reality of Dauber’s phone call and follow-up email, which came out of the blue, is this: Over the next four years, the Day 1 Families Fund, established by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie, will earmark $5 million for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans to fund a multi-faceted program that seeks to attack homelessness in New Orleans using an approach designed to resolve both the immediate and long-term needs of the homeless person or family.

The $5 million grant is the largest Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans has ever received from a private, family fund, Sister Marjorie said.

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans was one of 24 nonprofits to receive the first Day 1 Families Fund grants, totaling $97.5 million, and the only one in Louisiana. Sister Marjorie does not know how her agency landed on the foundation’s radar.

“I have no idea except perhaps they saw something on our website or what we’ve done on social media,” Sister Marjorie said. “We’re always trying to better inform the local New Orleans community of what we do because we’re told so frequently, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Catholic Charities did that.’ We’ve made concerted efforts in these last few years to keep telling everyone, including our pastors, what we do.”

A holistic approach

The grant from the Day 1 Families Fund will be used to pursue solutions to end family homelessness in New Orleans, with a strong focus on providing housing as well as social services, skills training and job support to assist families in transitioning to and remaining in permanent housing.

The funding will allow Catholic Charities to hire a program manager and three case managers to provide aftercare; provide money for direct assistance for rental and mortgage payments; and provide emergency housing. The grant will allow Catholic Charities to rehabilitate a duplex it owns in Jefferson Parish for emergency shelter.

The program will base its success on the number of families able to remain in housing rather than becoming homeless again as well as on the number of families placed in housing after being homeless.

Catholic Charities will use the funding to fight homelessness with financial assistance and long-term wraparound services, including immediate case management, emergency housing, rapid re-housing, supportive services and long-term case management. The program hopes to aid about 60 families each year.

Catholic Charities has had success with a previous effort using the multi-faceted approach, Sister Marjorie said. That program was funded by a $500,000 grant which eventually ran out. The new grant is 10 times as big.

“This really ties into our strategic plan which we adopted two years ago,” she said. “One priority was to concentrate on making a strong effort to demonstrate that we bring people from emergencies – issues of poverty – and raise them to a level of sustainability. That’s been our focus. Across our programs, we are asking, ‘How are we moving people, not just through the crisis of having no house, no food, no utilities, but to a level of sustainability?’ We want to help find them a job, to get affordable housing, to teach them money management. That’s how I see this further enhancing and expanding our daily efforts to address the needs of poverty in our community.”

Sister Marjorie said the outreach program also fulfills one of the major priorities of the recent archdiocesan synod regarding social justice.

Foundation keen on N.O.

The foundation asked Catholic Charities to fill out the grant application quickly and even called several times over the ensuing days to remind the agency about approaching deadlines, which Sister Marjorie said was quite unusual.

“That was a confirmation that they had really done their homework to look at the work of Catholic Charities,” Sister Marjorie said. “I looked at it in the broad strokes of what Catholic Charities does across the country. How they talked more specifically implied to me that they had done their homework about us locally.”

Sister Marjorie said the funding comes at a great time to fulfill a request from Archbishop Gregory Aymond that Catholic Charities be among those finding solutions to homelessness in New Orleans.

“The archbishop was very clear because he was seeing the increasing number of homeless people whenever he made the trip from the chancery on Walmsley Avenue to Howard Avenue,” Sister Marjorie said. “He very clearly said, ‘I want the church to be present in addressing this crisis.’ It appeared to be a growing issue then, and it really has exploded in numbers since then.”

Others who received funds

Other recipients from around the country are Abode Services, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Community of Hope, Community Rebuilders, Crossroads Rhode Island, District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), Emerald Development & Economic Network (EDEN) Inc., FrontLine Service, Hamilton Families, Heartland Family Service, Housing Families First, JOIN, LA Family Housing (in Los Angeles), Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), Primo Center for Women and Children, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), SEARCH Homeless Services, Simpson Housing Services, The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston, UMOM New Day Centers and Urban Resource Institute (URI).

Founded by Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Bezos Day One Fund consists of two programs: the Day 1 Families Fund that provides grants to nonprofit organizations fighting homelessness, and the Day 1 Academies Fund that will fund and build a network of pre-schools in low-income communities across the country.

The Day 1 Families Fund’s vision comes from the inspiring Mary’s Place in Seattle: No child should sleep outside. A small group of expert advisors provided input to the Bezos Day One Fund team to select these organizations. The Day 1 Families Fund will be awarding grants annually. For more information, visit www.BezosDayOneFund.org/Day1FamiliesFund.

The mission of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans is to provide hope, help and loving care for the most vulnerable and needy in the eight civil parishes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. For more information, visit www.ccano.org.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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