Diocese responds to homeless crisis in Rhode Island

Bishop Tobin prays with, blesses Emmanuel House guests during annual Christmas Party


PROVIDENCE — On Monday, December 19, Bishop Tobin visited Emmanuel House for its yearly Christmas party.
Established in December of 2010, Emmanuel House is a homeless shelter in South Providence operated by the diocese. It was established in response to a marked lack in homeless shelters throughout the state at that time.
“When Emmanuel House first opened, there was a real lack of shelter beds throughout the State,” said James Jahnz, the secretary for Catholic Charities and Social Ministry. “This was something that Bishop Tobin identified we could assist with.”
Bishop Tobin spent the first part of the night’s events socializing with the residents. After a brief period, he addressed those present.
“The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas originated when God gave us the gift of his son,” Bishop Tobin said, going on to note how because of this, the Bible attributes to Christ the title of Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” in Hebrew. Bishop Tobin went on to say that the spiritual implications of this were what the Church hoped to remind us of when they named the shelter the Emmanuel House: “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your experiences are. God is with us.”
After leading the residents in prayer and blessing them, Bishop Tobin handed out gifts of clothing to those in attendance.
One unique element of Emmanuel House is that many of those who have benefitted from the ministry of the shelter have also been inspired to directly participate in helping Emmanuel House carry out its mission. Such is the case with Luigi Montanaro, age 77. Montanaro, who said he is a Vietnam War veteran, spent many years suffering from the emotional burden associated with the death of his wife and son in a car crash. This set off a chain of events that eventually led him to become homeless.
Montanaro has been living at Emmanuel House for almost seven years but was so inspired by the generosity of the diocesan shelter that he now regularly volunteers at there, helping them with various tasks around the shelter and in caring for the other residents.
“I figured, I’m living here, these people are helping me, so I try to give back as much as I can,” Montanaro said.
Montanaro has been so inspired by the generosity of the diocese that he has also found ways to give back to the Church in other manners. Montanaro has also spent the past 11 years volunteering at the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, which offers breakfast for the local homeless every Sunday morning.
Montnaro’s situation is to a large degree representative of the general mindset of many of those present at the Emmanuel House.
“Emmanuel House staff are all in recovery and many have been homeless themselves,” Jahnz noted. “Their backgrounds give a unique sense of mission to their work. This provides Emmanuel House a sympathetic understanding of the difficulties they are experiencing.”
The fact that many of those helped by the Emmanuel House in the past have themselves gone on to work or volunteer with the Emmanuel House feeds into the larger mindset or approach of the shelter.
“More than anything else,” Jahnz noted, “since its opening, Emmanuel House has been a warm, safe and secure place for men to stay when in need of shelter.”
Emmanuel House, which helps approximately 20,000 people per year, is also to some extent a community effort. Although founded and operated by the diocese, those involved with the shelter will frequently work with local government leaders to help carry out its mission.
One example can be seen in how Emmanuel House, which normally can accommodate 50 men per night, expands its accommodations in the period between early November and late April due to funding from various state programs that assist in helping the poor find shelter during the winter months.
“The state and city have been great partners throughout the years,” Jahnz noted.
Yet, the core of Emmanuel House’s mission is inspired by the traditional social and moral teachings of the Church. The mission of the Emmanuel House, like all of the programs associated with the Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry, is “rooted in the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” Jahnz stated, noting that the mission of the Emmanuel House “follows straight from the Gospel call we receive in Matthew 25 of helping those in need.”