May 14, 2021

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

A family’s 90-day journey to hope with the help of a Catholic Charities’ shelter

David Bethuram

Many of us can accomplish a lot in 90 days, but what if that is all the time you had to turn your family’s life around?

What if you had a family of 10, no job, outstanding bills, no transportation and no home?

This nightmare scenario is where the family of Charles and Anita found themselves in the winter of 2019.

Charles, Anita and their eight children lived a basic life in a home provided by Charles’ employer. Anita cared for the children and home while Charles provided income. Their world was crushed when Charles’s employer downsized, and he lost his job. With one last paycheck on the way, the family had no place to turn. They had no family or friends’ support in the area to help them. They had no home, no income and no transportation.

Through community referral services, the family found a safe place to live at one of our emergency family shelters. Once the family was situated, their case manager began helping them with a plan.

Schooling was the first course of action. The six school-age children were already attending school in another district, but the oldest was in an alternative school in yet another district. The schools were not equipped to provide the case manager any assistance as she attempted to advocate for the children. When the kids finally transferred schools, they determined that the oldest was best suited for a talented and gifted program. Shelter staff decided it was imperative for the family to remain in the shelter for the remainder of the school year to ensure the children had proper support throughout this transition.

Charles and Anita worked side by side with shelter staff on the school plans. Once that was settled, Charles resumed his full-time search for work. With guidance and encouragement from staff, he was able to secure a job within a few weeks.

As the family settled into a school and work schedule, Anita was seen less and less. She would retreat to the family’s room for most of each day with the two youngest children. Through one-on-one discussions, Anita revealed that she had received little medical care, including adequate care for the youngest child who was born prematurely.

She was reluctant to seek care and had little faith in the medical community. She felt that people judged her for the number of children she had. The staff made arrangements so Anita could get the medical care she needed. Anita attended a medical appointment for herself and worked with the doctor to treat her postpartum depression.

Housing this large family was a difficult undertaking. Case management staff helped Charles and Anita work through the barriers they were facing. Financial education, community resources and planning enabled the family to pay off a $1,500 outstanding utility bill and save for rent. With the debt out of the way, they were fortunate to find a spot in a low-income housing program. As luck would have it, they also found a house that would be big enough for all of them. They would be in an area where bus service was accessible, as this would be their only transportation.

The family stayed at the shelter for 90 days. They came to us feeling hopeless, yet they accomplished so much in just three months. The children had made a lot of progress in their new schools. Charles had found work, and Anita’s health and mental well-being were improved. The family left the shelter with housing, knowledge of resources in the community and basic financial plans for the future. With the support of Catholic Charities’ staff, the family left our facility not only whole but rejuvenated and empowered. And it all happened in 90 days.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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