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Catholic Charities builds permanent housing units for chronically homeless

For the first time in its years of building 16 housing units in Eastern Washington for low-income families, seniors, adults with disabilities and farm workers, Catholic Charities of Spokane has built permanent housing for chronically homeless people on Washington’s Disability Lifeline Program, formerly the General Assistance-Unemployable (GAU) program.

Also, for the first time, it has named the building for someone who is living, Father Frank Bach, the third director of Catholic Charities Spokane, serving from 1964 to 1978.

Father Frank Bach
Father Frank Bach, for whom the new housing is named

The 51-unit Father Bach Haven is a tribute to Fr. Frank’s ministry as a parish priest, volunteer at the House of Charity, and member of the Catholic Charities Housing Board and Catholic Charities Foundation.

“He has a heart for homeless people, visiting people at the House of Charity and staying there for the overnight program,” said Monique Kolonko, associate director for seniors and housing with Catholic Charities for seven years.

Bishop Blase Cupich will bless and dedicate the building at noon, Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the facility at 108 S. State St., next door to the House of Charity in Spokane.

Deciding to enter the priesthood, Fr. Frank went from his hometown, Johnstown, Pa., to study at Josephinium Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.  When he was ordained in 1956, there was an abundance of priests in the East, so he had permission to go to the West, chose Spokane and came here that year. 

He was priest at St. Ann’s and then served for two years on the Spokane Reservation.

Interested in working with low-income people and people with disabilities, he completed a master’s degree in social work at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1964, before leading Catholic Charities in Spokane. 

He served then as pastor at Sacred Heart parish from 1976 to 1980 until the Bishop asked him to be vicar for administration.

After a year of sabbatical, studying at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., he served St. Mary’s parish in Spokane Valley for nine years before retiring.  Recently, he assisted at the parish in Newport and now is serving a year at Sacred Heart in Pullman.  As other retired priests do, he conducts Mass at parishes.

“It’s sad that, even though this country has prospered, so many people still fall through the cracks and become homeless.  Particularly veterans and people with psychological problems find it hard to be hired for jobs,” Fr. Frank said.

Even in Pullman, a university town, the food bank is almost out of food and child welfare struggles to meet the needs of children, he said.

“No community is spared.  As public funds dry up, nonprofits step up to do what they can,” Fr. Frank said.

He is pleased that in the Pullman parish of about 400 families, high school youth have a tradition of coming to Spokane to help at the House of Charity.

“It’s how another generation is instilled with a spirit of serving low-income people,” he said.

Monique said that 15 years ago Catholic Charities began talking of developing permanent housing to help stabilize the lives of chronically homeless people.  Two years ago, plans were underway for Fr. Bach Haven.

“While funding for GAU services has dried up, we were one of two projects in the state to receive funds for the capital development, along with tax credits,” she said.  “It has been a long-term dream of Catholic Charities to provide housing for the chronically homeless.”

The facility is designed to be low maintenance, because many residents will have limited experience in maintaining a home and because their incomes are $13,000  a year or less.  Their rent will be 30 percent of their incomes.

The floors are painted concrete, easy to clean.  The furniture is built in.  There is central heating and cooling.  Windows have safety glass.  There are rails in the bathroom.  The kitchens have microwaves and cook tops.  Residents can take meals next door at the House of Charity.

Residents must pass a background check and must sign an agreement that they will not engage in illegal activity in the building.

A full-time social services coordinator will provide services and counseling on site in collaboration with community partners.

As of mid-December, 87 people had applies for the 31 studio apartments for one person and 20 one-bedroom apartments, which can house two people.

Given its location, Fr. Bach Haven is a visible sign to say that homeless people have options.  The goal is to draw people from the House of Charity and programs for homeless women to provide support services so they can stabilize their lives.

“Over the years of volunteering at the House of Charity, I have come across people I have not met except at the Christmas Bureau, people down on their luck and unable to handle life on their own,” Fr. Frank said.  “If more of us met homeless people one-on-one, we would be more sensitive and less judgmental.”

His faith helps him “see Christ in people around me, whether they are rich or poor, hurting or comfortable, good or bad.” 

Fr. Frank believes the bottom line for getting into heaven is, as Christ said, based on:  “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.”

That’s his personal motivation, and he seeks to motivate others to share that understanding.

“I’m 82 and blessed with energy and most of my marbles, so I’m able to stay active,” he said.  “If we have blessings, we need to share them.”

Because of the effectiveness of Catholic Charities serving in Spokane and Eastern Washington, Fr. Frank said, the diocese is sensitized to “the needs of our brothers and sisters.”

“We serve people not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic,” Fr. Frank said.  “It’s extraordinary that in a diocese our size, we will raise more than $1 million this year for Catholic Charities services.”

For information, call 459-6187 or email mkolonko@ccspokane.org.



Copyright © January 2013 - The Fig Tree