Catholic Charities has always endeavored to provide the poor with a sense of dignity and respect by giving them shelter, food and clothing. Now, they’re giving them access to cleanliness through a new free shower and laundry facility at their St. Vincent Center.
Following the example of Pope Francis, who opened a similar facility for the homeless in Rome, St. Vincent Center’s facilities include two shower rooms and a laundry room with four washers and dryers.
Pope Francis “recognized that care of the poor must extend beyond sustenance to services that recognize and support the dignity of each human being,” Chicago Catholic Charities President Monsignor Michael Boland said.
Individuals who attend St. Vincent’s Tuesday night dinners are eligible to sign up for half-hour shower slots after meeting with a social worker, Chicago Catholic Charities creative director Jennifer Sirota said. Each shower room — complete with sink, mirror, toilet and shower — locks from the inside.
The shower facility has been open for the past two weeks. Currently, the showers run from 10 to noon on Wednesdays and can accomodate 10 people during that time, Sirota said. St. Vincent’s worked with the Fourth Presbyterian Church — which also has shower facilities — to develop the program currently in place, Boland said.
St. Vincent hopes to provide more opportunities for individuals to use the showers, however, that’s contingent on finding more volunteers to help with the facility, Boland said. Catholic Charities associate director of Board Relations and Mission Engagement, Marie Jochum, stressed that volunteers wouldn’t be tasked with cleaning the shower areas, but rather welcoming guests and ensuring the process flowed smoothly.
Those using the showers can pick out a pair of clean clothes from the center’s clothing room beforehand, and will also be given gender-appropriate toiletries with clean underwear, deodorant and toothbrushes among other items, Boland said.
Logistics are still being figured out for opening the free laundry facilities to the public, but Sirota expects them to be fully functional within the next few months.
Jochum said these new facilities will help Catholic Charities’ mission to provide dignity and hope to the poor, and she’s seen the results firsthand.
“When folks come into the shower and out of the shower, it’s a ‘before and after,’ ” she said. “Of course they’re clean, of course they’re shaven, but they also look different. There’s a glow about them, there’s a sense that they have some dignity back.”