Catholic Charities Pimps DC Council Again, This Time Over Gay Marriage

What do a Catholic Charities homeless shelter and gay marriage have in common? Some would venture to guess that gay men want the right to identify as women and sleep in female shelters and that butch lesbians want the right to sleep in male shelters. That would be a very well-informed guess. I've witnessed gay men checking into female shelters, though I've yet to see a butch lesbian check into a male shelter. Such rights exist in DC homeless shelters already.

However, there is a new and strange twist (no pun intended) to the fight for gay rights. I received the news over dinner last night (before it even hit the airwaves) that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC is considering the possibility of not doing any more business with the city of Washington if the gay marriage bill is passed. Being that the news has hit the airwaves at this point and you can get the story by going on-line, I'll take some time to give you a little of the background on relations between Catholic Charities and DC Government as well as the low-down on the mayor -- the parts of the story that the media won't tell you.

In March I did a blog post about several shelters having been threatened. (See below where I've re-posted it.) It was believed by the homeless community at that time that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty wanted to close ALL DC homeless shelters before leaving office in January of 2011. Then, the mayor was heard suggesting that homeless people who are not from DC go back to where they came from. (You can read about that in my September post entitled: "DC Mayor Tries To Rid City of Homeless".) In lieu of all of the reasons that the mayor has given the homeless to think that he wants them to just get out of town, it behooves the mayor to proactively prove otherwise. No matter how many layers of authority and contracts lie between the mayor and those who actually close the shelters, the mayor will still be implicated in the closure. He is still ultimately responsible. It is, therefore, in Mayor Fenty's best interest to actively prevent any shelter closures, especially at this time of year. He must use every weapon in his arsenal to come to the rescue of DC's homeless. Failure is not an option. Even if Catholic Charities shuts down all city operations, the mayor will be who everyone looks to for answers.

Catholic Charities is a different story altogether. Some believe that Catholic Charities is in dire straights and is using the gay marriage bill to suck more money out of the city. But before I explain the correlation between the gay marriage bill and the homeless shelters, I'll explain how Catholic charities likes to pimp the city.

The news came out on September 28th of this year that $12 million would be slashed from DC Government's Homeless Services budget. All homeless service providers were, in turn, ordered to cut 30% from their budget for FY 2010. Catholic Charities representatives attended a hearing in front of DC Councilman Tommy Wells on October 5th and stated that they could not continue to operate with one-third of their budget having been slashed. They threatened to shut down all of their city shelters, which would have resulted in the loss of about 2,000 shelter beds. The city scrambled to find the funds to keep the shelters open. Within 3 days the mayor found $11 million and the shelters were saved. He thereby averted a lot of major lawsuits due to hypothermia deaths.

However, this showed Catholic Charities that they are in a position to do a power play on the city. If this latest development is any indication, Catholic Charities is not going to let the city forget that they -- and not the city government -- hold the cards when it comes to social services in the city. When I referred to Catholic Charities as having pimped the city during conversations in October, it was blown off as being nothing but hype. In the articles about this latest move, various council members have weighed in on this issue of being pimped by Catholic Charities. It's too obvious to ignore at this point. I told you so.

The story goes like this:

The DC Council has been working on a gay marriage bill, which they expect to pass next month. While the bill makes certain exemptions for religious organizations, it doesn't make exemptions for businesses. Churches don't have to perform gay marriages or allow their space to be used for gay marriages. However, businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays in any way, shape, form or fashion. They must serve gay patrons and must extend employee benefits to the gay partners of their employees. Catholic Charities, being a non-profit, is an uncanny marriage of the two -- a church and a business. They seek to assert their religious beliefs as reasons for them not to have to abide by the gay marriage bill as it pertains to businesses. They also claim that the increased cost of employee benefits justifies them opting out of city contracts due to the increased cost of those benefits having not been figured into the contracts at the time of the signing. Catholic charities is seriously considering not doing business with the city any more. If they were to make good on this threat, thousands of DC's most vulnerable citizens would suffer. That makes it rather selfish of Catholic charities to opt out of their city contracts. (As a quick aside, I must say that I told the person who first informed me of this situation with Catholic Charities that I feel obligated to remain a homeless advocate, in spite of me not getting paid for it, and that my reason is that I'd be letting a lot of people who look up to me down if I were to quit now.)

Let's also bear in mind that Catholic Charities receives city funding. This alone obligates them to lay aside any religious beliefs and to continue to deliver services -- secularly, as a non-profit and not as a church. My statement is not without precedent, that precedent having been set in the Central Union Mission (CUM) case. Central Union Mission sought to move to the historic and city-owned Gales School. With CUM being Christian-based, they were told that they could not acquire the Gales School unless they lifted the religious requirements. That is to say that they couldn't make anyone pray or attend chapel services as a requirement for residing at the shelter. Neither could they make or enforce any other religious policies such as not allowing people to smoke cigarettes. CUM is still bargaining with the city for the Gales School; but, they know full well that they must lighten up on the religious requirements in order for this deal to move forward. With Catholic charities receiving city funds, they can expect the same type of treatment.

The crux of the issue is whether Catholic Charities is more of a church or more of a business. (I can't help but think of a related ethnic joke.) Should they be exempt from honoring the gay rights law due to being a religious organization or be obligated to obey such a law due to them being a business and receiving city funding?????

While people ponder that question, I'd like to throw a possible solution out there. There has been conversation between homeless advocates and DC Government about the homeless community running the shelters. This too is not without precedent. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter in downtown DC is run by homeless people. No one gets paid to work there. The shelter runs entirely on donations, with the building being owned by the city. The building was actually wrested from the Reagan administration by homeless people who were operating under the leadership of Mitch Snyder.

This conversation needs to be picked up and become a bit more serious. Furthermore, the city should actually pay the homeless to run the shelters. They should transfer the money that they would've given to Catholic Charities to the homeless who would run the shelters. The homeless would be willing to run the shelters with the reduced budget that Catholic Charities cried about in October. Furthermore, it would serve to empower the homeless -- to instill in them a can-do attitude. This alone would lead to a substantial decrease in homelessness. Just something to think about.


Anonymous said…
Eric -- this is a very thoughtful post, well articulated. It is sickening that the Catholic Charities would "pimp" the city to gets the church's way on a religious issue. Have they forgotten the parable of the Good Samaritan? Are they in the "business" of being "religious" or in the business of being a business?

I agree with you that the monies the Catholic Charities would walk away from should be offered to the Center's volunteers who would benefit greatly, for the reasons you offer.

May you continue, Eric, in your efforts on behalf of the homeless of Washington, D.C. They have no greater advocate than you! And may Catholic Charities find its conscience wherever they left it!

Deb said…
Hey! Just read this story about the same thing over at the "'s" STREATS site (WTH??). Seems I've been out of touch for awhile. Have you been "corporatized" Little Brother?

An-n-nyway, I saw this today and thought of you - kinda:

"What is the Alliance Story Bank?

The Alliance is launching a Story Bank, which will be a collection of stories from services providers, advocates, and people experiencing homelessness who wish to share the details of how an episode of homelessness was prevented or ended. To share a story, please go to the Alliance Story Bank Submission page.

Note: Please prioritize stories that track the success of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) to strengthen our work to increase federal homelessness assistance funding.

Why are stories important?

Often, we talk about homelessness in terms of research jargon, data, or complex policy issues - but using real experiences humanizes the issue and provides a much simpler roadmap to a solution. Your stories will better inform policymakers, reporters, and the public about the strategies for preventing and ending homelessness. Additionally, policymakers are more likely to support new homelessness assistance resources when they hear about (a) the impact it will have on people living in their district, and (b) how programs are using those resources effectively and efficiently.

My first reaction was, Does that make a damn bit of sense from the perspective of people who've been trying to get PSH and haven't - yet??? Maybe the story of the lady who died sitting right OUTSIDE CCNV should be revisited as item "C" in the list of reasons why the stories should matter to policymakers. But that's just me.

Then I said, "Eric could tell them a damn story!" But, as I kept reading, I realized - it's not YOUR story they really want to hear is it. Am I wrong? Did I misread?

I hope I did, because if anybody knows, you know what the real deal is - especially in DC.

Good to "hear" your voice again. Take care of yourself.
Deb said…
Link to that Alliance Story Bank piece:
Eric Sheptock said…
Deb, you're right. I could tell them a story or 2. They want success stories that will encourage Congress to give more money to the cause. However, many who are still homeless could also tell congress what we need to get beyond homelessness. The people running this website don't seem to understand that. Even so, there are other on-line publications that DO understand that. I'll just write for them. I'll post another story soon, this one being about the visit from the United Nations.
Deb said…
"They want success stories that will encourage Congress to give more money to the cause."

That's what's ass-backwards to me!! Instead of Congress listening to THE HOMELESS, who're living this reality day in and day out, they want the sugar-coated success stories to convince themselves they're really doing a lot to combat homelessness. Listening to you would give the truth to that lie. But they don't really want to hear the truth. Because then, it would point to the huge failure that all their time on the Hill has been.

And you're right, these people over at the Alliance need to understand that shinin' up shit and calling it gold still doesn't make it gold.

Keep up the good work, Little Brother. I will always try to support you in any way I can.

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