'Whether We Provide Enough for Those Who Have Too Little'

Archbishop William Levada delivered the following speech at the blessing of St. Joseph Village, a new homeless shelter in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In the New Testament, the Letter of James has challenged Christians for almost 20 centuries to put our faith into action: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2, 15-17). St. Joseph's Village is about putting faith into action.

In Washington, D.C., when you enter the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, you read these words: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” St. Joseph Village is a community effort to meet that test of a just and free society, of America. In performing its task to provide basic food and shelter for homeless families and children and pregnant women here in San Francisco, together with medical and social assistance and job training, it will also challenge us as Christians and as Americans to live up to our national ideals. And it will challenge our political leaders to give us welfare reform which truly helps, not punishes, the poor, the jobless, the homeless, and the immigrant elderly and disabled people who are our neighbors in San Francisco's beautiful corner of the global village.

Today, as we ask God to bless this new community outreach on behalf of homeless families and children, we acknowledge with gratitude the support of the City and County of San Francisco, and the personal encouragement and support of Mayor Willie Brown, whose strong commitment to addressing the great needs of homelessness in our city recognizes the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors to achieve hands-on results. St. Joseph's Village has grown and continues to grow out of a unique set of circumstances.

The Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, which closed St. Joseph parish some years ago, has made these former parish facilities available at no cost to provide this program for homeless families and children. Catholic Charities has organized a program which provides not only food and shelter, but daycare, medical assistance, and tutoring for children; job training and placement, and social assistance for jobless adults; and longer-term residence and prenatal care for homeless women who are pregnant.

In other words, this is a program to help families become self-sufficient, to regain the dignity and self-respect which the crushing burden of poverty has robbed them of. To achieve this, Catholic Charities has received the active cooperation of St. Mary's Medical Center for medical assistance, and of Mercy Charities Housing for management assistance. In addition, the many Catholic parishes of San Francisco are organizing volunteer efforts to assist in many aspects of the programs here. This is truly a partnering effort which can serve as a model for other community programs. The City of San Francisco is a true partner here through its grants for building upgrades and program assistance.

St. Joseph's Village is a small effort to help meet a large challenge in our society. The capacity here is 50 persons at any one time. Over a year's time, the Village might serve up to 1,000 people. But St. Joseph's Village can and will stand as a reminder to our society that we must meet F.D.R.'s “test of progress” for a just and free society, and that we meet that test by helping the poor and disenfranchised, not by punishing them.

Welfare reform legislation, together with changes in immigration law, are currently on the agenda of our political representatives both in Washington and Sacramento. They will make a big difference in the lives of people like those at St. Joseph's Village, and they will make a big difference—either for better or for worse—in the City of San Francisco. We should let our legislators know that we care about what laws they create. We should make sure they hear what our concerns are.

We should tell them that we will not stand for welfare and immigration reform that removes the safety net of basic food and financial assistance, which provides sustenance and shelter to children, to families, and to the elderly and disabled. We see this as a matter of fundamental morality and justice in our society.

There are several key targets we should keep in mind:

(1) We favor legislation which helps people transition from welfare to work. People find dignity and meaning through work, and by it make their contribution to society. This means providing for job training and education, creating new jobs which pay a living wage, and ensuring medical care for workers and their families.

(2) We favor legislation which strengthens family life. Strong, intact families whose children can be brought up in an atmosphere of personal responsibility, discipline, and morality are the guarantee of the future of our society. Statistics indicate that 27 percent of children in California live below the poverty line—in a state which has the seventh largest economy in the world! Welfare reform should help parents meet the social, economic, educational, and moral needs of their children. We think that creative ideas like a children's tax credit for poorer families, earned income credit, and stronger child support enforcement can help families meet these goals.

This is a program to help families become self-sufficient, to regain the dignity and self-respect which the crushing burden of poverty has robbed them of.

(3) We must provide a safety net. The poor you will always have with you, Jesus said, and it is a truism which we need to remind ourselves of. There will always be some people for whom we will need to be neighbors by ensuring that they continue to have basic health, food, and shelter. In California in particular we must be especially attentive that immigration reform does not strip our neighbors of their dignity by removing S.S.I. benefits and food stamps even from the elderly and disabled. Some 2.5 million families in California could potentially be affected by new welfare legislation; according to the mayor's office, assistance could be cut off from 14,000 to 38,000 San Francisco residents.

Our Churches and private groups will continue to do our best to assist these people, but it is the solemn responsibility of government—which is of the people, by the people, and for the people—that is, us—to ensure that the public bear the cost of these basic needs—not of neighbors who will not, but of neighbors who cannot meet those needs by themselves.

St. Joseph's Village is a new sign of hope in our city. Let us make sure that the welfare and immigration reform underway in Washington and Sacramento support the concepts of hope represented here with such promise for a better future.