Compassion in action

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1178513_76569471Dorothy Day House offers physical, emotional aid to those in need

By Elizabeth L. Pratt
Sun contributing writer

No one thinks they’ll end up homeless. Sandy certainly didn’t.

“It was very scary at first,” said Sandy, whose full name has been withheld to protect her privacy. “I was overwhelmed.”

Sandy had moved from Pennsylvania to the Syracuse area to be closer to her children and grandchildren. She moved in with her sister, got a job, and life was good.

Then she lost her job, became depressed and was admitted to the hospital to deal with that depression. Her sister told her she was no longer welcome to live with her — leaving Sandy unemployed and homeless.

Enter Dorothy Day House. The former convent, with 10 bedrooms able to host 20 people, gave Sandy a second chance.

“They treated me with respect and compassion,” Sandy said, speaking of the Dorothy Day House staff. “They help you feel good about yourself again.”

A division of Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, the Dorothy Day House is an emergency shelter available for women and children. The Department of Social Services makes the placements to the shelter, which is named after Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s.

“Our primary goal is housing relocation,” said Liz Perry, manager of Dorothy Day House. “Everyone wants to move on, but it’s very, very difficult right now in this economy to find housing.”

The housing search can be even more difficult for those who are dealing with domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse, coming out of rehabilitation programs, or homelessness.

“They [the staff] exhaust every resource,” Sandy said. “[The housing relocators] are helping me get my driver’s license transferred from Pennsylvania, helping me with job leads, and, of course, helping me look for permanent housing.”

While faith and religion are not specific parts of day-to-day activities at the house, shelter aide Anastashia Stolar said she likes that it’s a faith-based organization.

“My job is to help people with their quality of life and help them improve it,” Stolar said. “Spiritually, mentally, emotionally… just in those little moments throughout the day we try to remind them of how good life can be. None of this is possible without God; God is a consistent support.”

Stolar’s sentiments echo Day’s perspective on life. Day, who is under consideration for canonization, once remarked, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.”

Dorothy Day House employs 18 staff members, most of whom are part-time employees. Perry, Stolar and the rest of the staff maintain the house and prepare meals for the residents. Case managers offer follow-up assistance for six to 12 months after residents leave, helping them with whatever they need.

Perry said the staff tries to emulate Dorothy Day’s commitment to helping others.

“She [Day] lived her life truly trying to help people, and that’s why we’re here too,” Perry said.

“It’s a wonderful jumping off point,” Sandy said. “They’re not enabling you to be homeless, they’re trying to help you move on.”

When asked why Stolar chose this line of work, her response was simple.

“I believe God wants us to be helping others,” she said.

Catholic Charities of Onondaga County can be contacted at (315) 424-1800 or www.ccoc.us. Dorothy Day House welcomes donations of household items, especially pots and pans, linens, towels and anything that might be needed for someone moving into a new home. For more information on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, visit www.catholicworker.org.

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