A job, a home and open arms

Thomas Birmingham, news-features writer

*name changed for anonymity

About four years ago, Jackson’s* father passed away. Not long after, he was making his home under a highway overpass in Soulard. He did not know what to do. He was desperate, hopeless and needed somewhere to go. After eight months of homelessness, he went to St. Patrick Center. In a tale told on the organization’s website, Jackson found help, support and a fresh start.

St. Patrick Center, a homeless shelter in downtown St. Louis, provides housing, employment and medical care opportunities for those who are homeless or on the poverty line. More than 5,700 people receive aid from the organization each year, and 340 of these clients are able to find work. St. Patrick Center provides the 51 percent of clients with mental health or substance abuse issues with aid. Jackson said he was able to get a doctor, a place to live and a job with the help of the shelter.

“Days look different [now],” Jackson said. “I’ve been [at] my job for three years, I’ve been able to pay my rent [and] I’ve been able to talk to people if I need help. It was a good place for me to go and become a normal person, to become a working citizen again and to get my life back on track.”

Courtney Phillips, St. Patrick Center Communications Coordinator, said she was drawn to the organization because of her desire to help people. Having only heard wonderful things about the program, she was thrilled when she found a job opening in the communications department. Phillips said she loves that the center helps people change their lives in a permanent way instead of only providing temporary solutions.

“My favorite thing about St. Patrick Center is our mission,” Phillips said. “We do not place judgment on others, and we treat people with dignity and respect. It is humbling to be surrounded by coworkers willing to devote their time to helping others know their worth.”

Phillips said being involved with a charity involves a significant time commitment and requires doing a wide range of difficult tasks. However, she said it is worth it to know she is helping others.

“Working for a non-profit agency is fast-paced and challenging at times, but highly rewarding,” Phillips said. “It is great to know you are helping others by doing the work you do each day. [The staff and volunteers] all remind each other our work is for our clients, and that keeps us working through the hard times.”

Sarah Morgan, junior, remembers visiting St. Patrick Center in seventh grade with her class at St. Peter’s Catholic School. She said the staffers educated her on what it means to be homeless, telling her there are many different ways a person can be affected by this issue. She was also excited to hear they provided substantial aid to people with drug addictions.

“[Drug addiction] is a really hard thing to recover from, and it’s hard to find people who are willing to help you,” Morgan said. “There are former drug addicts who do want to change. They want to get better and want to be able to support themselves.”

Though she does not volunteer at the center, Morgan is a member of the National Honor Society and participated in Kirkwood Youth Service (KYS) her freshman year. She said since everyone struggles at some point in life, doing charity work is especially important because anyone could end up in a similar situation.

“Some people may be living on the streets while others just aren’t making enough money to pay the bills,” Morgan said. “[St. Patrick Center] will help you get a foothold out in the workforce and get [you] back on your feet.”

While the mission of St. Patrick Center is what initially drew Phillips in, it is the stories of people like Jackson, who is incredibly grateful for all the help he received from the center, that make her work worthwhile. Jackson said he was significantly changed because of his homelessness, and without the help of St. Patrick Center he might still be in that situation.

“At first, St. Patrick Center was a place for me to eat, shower, do laundry and make phone calls,” Jackson said. “[But now], St. Patrick Center is a big part of my life. I’m glad they were here when I was homeless.”