Founded as the National Conference of Catholic Charities in 1910, Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) provides a range of services to individuals in need and advocates for justice and equality in various areas of society. Its advocacy work dates back to 1929, when the US government, in the midst of the Great Depression, was prompted by the agency to enact new labor, economic security, and public housing legislation based on Catholic principles. Moreover, CCUSA has been coordinating local disaster response efforts since 1990 and in 2007 launched an ambitious campaign to cut the domestic poverty rate in half by 2020. Here are three priorities of CCUSA’s ministry:
1. Disaster Relief
While CCUSA’s disaster relief work dates back nearly three decades, it has provided response services and support to hundreds of thousands of people since Hurricane Katrina alone. The 2005 natural disaster, along with Hurricane Rita, served as the impetus for CCUSA to launch its Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America. CCUSA’s disaster relief efforts are directed through the US Catholic Church and carried out in conjunction with its member agencies. In addition to ensuring that the immediate needs and safety of individuals are met, CCUSA often stays in contact with those affected to ensure that their long-term relief needs are met. It also operates the Applied Institute for Disaster Excellence training program, through which attendees can learn best practices for disaster response.
In 2017, CCUSA began providing disaster relief services to individuals in Florida following Hurricane Irma. Since the program was launched by member agency Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach, it has provided support to nearly 3,000 individuals in 1,197 households. This has been facilitated by the local disaster relief director Carol Rodriguez and part-time volunteers who conducted property and supply assessments after the hurricane and continue to keep in touch with families who require additional support. Rodriguez recalled one case involving an elderly couple, both of whom had dementia, and the black mold growing in their home as a result of water damage caused by a torn roof.
“To repair the roof was going to cost $20,000 and to remove the mold was $15,000. When we reached out to the elderly couple, it was clear that they didn’t have family around to help them through this difficult time. It turned out that they had hired a roofing company to repair damages, but the company wasn’t legitimate and scammed them out of their money,” she recalled. “It’s cases like these that make the program so important to the community.”
2. Affordable Housing
With an understanding of the emotional and financial strain on millions of American families as a result of the country’s affordable housing crisis, CCUSA provides long-term support and financial assistance to families facing the prospect of homelessness. As of January 2018, more than 550,000 people in the US were without a permanent residence, according to national data. Moreover, 33 percent of this population included families with children.
One of CCUSA’s primary projects in this regard is its Healthy Housing Initiative, which was announced in February 2019 with these five participating pilot agencies: Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, Catholic Charities of St. Louis, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, and Catholic Charities of Portland. These five member agencies will seek to drastically reduce chronic homelessness in their respective regions via case management, health services, and the development of supportive housing units.
One of the three main goals of the initiative is to bring about a 20 percent reduction in chronic homelessness. The other two goals are to reduce hospital readmission rates for individuals without a permanent residence by 25 percent and to connect 35 percent of newly housed individuals (who formerly experienced homelessness) to behavioral health and primary care services. Supplementing the Healthy Housing Initiative, CCUSA operates more than 35,000 housing units in complexes like The Marist on Cathedral Square, South Phoenix Village, and Cathedral Plaza and The O’Malley.
3. Immigration and Refugee Services
Beyond advocating for immigration and refugee policies that emphasize family unity and provide newcomers with sufficient opportunities to contribute to their respective communities, CCUSA provides essential services to these new Americans. Member agencies operate a wide range of programs and, in 2017 alone, nearly 100 agencies provided services to more than 25,000 immigrants and refugees through more than 200 programs.
More recently, in the summer of 2018, the CCUSA’s Mobile Relief Unit traveled to San Antonio at the request of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to provide hot food and donations to recently reunited families who were broken up as part of the “zero-tolerance” policy at the US/Mexico border.
CCUSA member agencies also operate practical programs designed to help immigrants and refugees assimilate into American society. El Centro, for instance, is a New Jersey-based program that provides English as a Second Language classes for Latino residents. Since 1999, the program has served Greater Mercer County and provided several native Spanish speakers with instruction and the ability to confidently speak English in professional settings.