By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
part 2 of 2
This Christmas it was the Kauffman family's turn to be creepidential. "It's a big family," Sister Maureen says, "and they put all the money they would have spent on presents for each other into an envelope. I just received this envelope--with nearly a thousand dollars in it. This is so good. There is so much in our new building that hasn't been paid for. Screens for the windows--maybe it will pay for that."
This morning the Sacred Heart staff has begun walking boxes across the street to the renovated 35-bed shelter, even though the city's building inspector has yet to declare it fit for human habitation. "Something about the back door," says Sister Maureen, with just a trace of irritation in her voice, "but we're hoping to start accepting families soon." And in the meantime, the homeless families--and their attendant agencies, programs and caseworkers--keep calling.
"This is mostly what nuns do," says the undaunted Sister Maureen. "Help people." But that's not what drew her to the convent in the first place. The oldest girl in a family of ten, she grew up in east Denver reading the Catholic missionary magazines her mother subscribed to and longing for foreign lands. At eighteen she entered the order of St. Joseph of Carandolet. Although Sister Maureen never left the United States--a younger sister, also a Sister of St. Joseph, ended up in a remote part of Peru--she enjoyed her work running a series of pastoral retreats "to help people understand Vatican II, to integrate their spiritual and worldly sides. I did that for fifteen years," she says, "and it was a powerful thing. But at the end of it I was tired of saving the saved, if you will, and I went to work for the mentally ill. Their needs are so simple."
At Denver's now defunct Boardwalk Community, Sister Maureen became "the mom, I suppose, cutting hair, making food, passing out pocket money," she says. "I wasn't a counselor. I grew into a friend, and they grew into mine."
After Boardwalk closed in 1987, Sister Maureen started a drop-in center for the mentally ill in the basement of a Capitol Hill church. Approaching burnout four years later, she took over for Sister Sue at Sacred Heart. It's been two years now, and the coffeepot and kitchen table are still key.
"How do women with children get off assistance?" Sister Maureen again asks herself as she sits for a minute in the middle of the moving chaos. "Not even single people can live on the minimum wage, so they're going to need job training. But some of them will never have the stick-to-it-iveness required for a highly skilled job. And the kind of manufacturing jobs that used to be high pay/low skill are all gone. Transitional housing--that's supposed to be time to breathe after falling apart, and the government says it should take two years. I say it takes longer. Meanwhile, these women are on assistance--"
"Wait a minute," says Patricia Polidore, who has been answering phones in another room. "I used to live in the projects, and I resent that. Not everyone who lives there is on assistance. A lot of them work. I worked. And everyone doesn't want to live on assistance forever, except for that one little segment that doesn't care."
"Sit down, Patricia," says Sister Maureen. "This is interesting."
"Well, I know it's none of my business, but people are not being taught about life," Patricia says, making herself comfortable. She's been a housing manager assistant at Sacred Heart, doing everything from answering phones to cooking breakfast to setting up bunk beds, since November--but her opinions stem from her seven years working in the Curtis Park Community Center daycare program. "People are having kids, and those kids are raising themselves," she says heatedly. "Parents are not parenting. Kids are learning nothing but TV, street and telephone. When you are a parent, you are responsible for a life, and that life will do whatever it sees and absorbs, so you'd better give it something good to see."
This brings up the touchy topic of birth control. Sister Maureen decides she had better not comment. "Maybe you should talk to Garrett," she says, in an attempt to change the subject. "He's our handyman/accountant, and he left a big firm to come here full-time. Or maybe you should talk to Janet Morris. She organized the new building almost all by herself. She just seems to get off on it."
"Are you kidding?" asks Janet, who has just come in from across the street. "I love to shop with other people's money."
As assistant shelter director, Janet is usually busy raising money and wrestling with the Sacred Heart budget, but for the past few weeks she's been looking for bedspreads, buying kitchen equipment and hoping to find exactly the right area rug for the dining room. She's supposed to work four days a week but hasn't worked fewer than six for as far back as she can remember. "The days are running together," she says. "My husband eats eggs for dinner, and I don't have a life. Maybe after we open I will."