Homelessness is a major problem in this country. Well all know this, and sometimes we do what we can to help, but most of the time it seems like there’s nothing we can do. It seems like the problem just keeps getting worse and it will only continue to do so. But one San Francisco church recently set out to change the way we view and treat our homeless.
Like many other great ideas, it started with a smile realization. Louis Vitale, the father of St. Boniface Church in San Francisco was traveling and was stuck in Denver on a layover. He was spending his layover and at a nearby chapel and was so tired he could barely stay awake. It was 2 A.M., after all, and he had been traveling all day. Who could blame him?! So finally, unable to fight it any longer, he asked Jesus for permission to lay down in the pew he was sitting in, something that is almost universally not allowed in churches. But no one else was there and he believed Jesus had granted him permission. It was in that moment that The Gubbio Project was born.
When Father Vitale returned home, he couldn’t escape one simple thought, “If Jesus gave me permission to sleep in the church, how can I deny it to other people who really belong to the parish here?” In particular, he was referring to the many homeless that lived in the community. He couldn’t continue doing so little. He wanted to help them. So he teamed up with a woman named Shelly Roder and they created The Gubbio Project, which provided shelter in the church for the homeless. It was a dangerous and ambitious undertaking. But they couldn’t believe how quickly the project was well received by the congregation! And it didn’t stop there.
Before they knew it, many members of the congregation began volunteering to help with the project. They were able to offer the people food, blankets, and even massages, thanks to a generous partnership with a massage institute in the neighborhood. Now as many as 300 homeless men, women, and children had a safe and warm place to sleep at night. It was truly a beautiful thing to see.
And beyond providing a much-needed service for the homeless, it also did wonders in bringing the community together. Suddenly the separation that has always existed between the homeless and those with jobs and homes seemed to be fading away. Everyone was able to see each other as neighbors and part of the same community now that they were sharing the same place of worship. The homeless no longer had to feel tossed aside or ignored, while the congregation was given a chance to really see these people as just that… people.
What an amazing story. I wish more places made efforts like this around the country! I bet it would go a long way in addressing the terrible homelessness rates we see today. Thank you, Father Vitale, Shelly Roder, and the Gubbio Project! And keep up the good work.