COLUMBIA—A new ministry of Catholic Charities seeks to provide both basic needs and an increased sense of dignity for homeless people in the Midlands.
Clean of Heart will offer bathing and laundry facilities for the increasing number of people who seek help at the Catholic Charities’ office in downtown Columbia.
Deacon Edward Peitler, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston, said they leased a building at 1219 Laurel St. from United Way. When work on the interior is completed, it will house three industrial washers and dryers, and two showers.
Deacon Peitler said clients can make appointments to use the facilities.
Catholic Charities still needs additional funding to complete the work by Weathers Contracting Company, Inc., he said. The goal is to have Clean of Heart up and running by late fall, before cold weather begins.
He said they were inspired by Clean Start, a similar program in Anderson.
Homeless people often use public restrooms in hospitals, restaurants or libraries, plus fountains, or faucets and hoses at private residences, the deacon said. Some even use the Congaree River, which flows through downtown Columbia, if no other facilities are available.
“This is a ministry that will have a high impact on individuals’ lives,” Deacon Peitler said. “It’s beneath the dignity of the human person to be reduced to that sort of life on the street. One of the most significant things we can do is help provide them with what most of us take for granted, which is the ability to have a clean set of clothes and take a shower or bath every day.”
Mary Gohean, Catholic Charities’ regional coordinator for the Midlands Deanery, said Clean of Heart will also help support area programs that provide clothing for the needy. They have to conserve limited supplies in a time of growing need.
A clothes closet run by Catholic Charities served 924 people between January and June, an increase of almost 100 clients from the same time period in 2009, she said.
Gohean said many homeless people wear their clothes for as long as they can but abandon them once they get too dirty. Clean of Heart will make it possible for the clothes to be reused instead of discarded.
“This program will have a health benefit and a humanizing benefit, and a lot of times it will also be the difference in being able to get a job,” Gohean said. “Clients tell us they need to look presentable in order to find work.”
Thomas Williams of Columbia knows firsthand how important a simple hot shower can be. He said he spent three years living in a homeless shelter and on the streets. He received clothes and toiletries frequently from Catholic Charities before he landed a job recently at a local restaurant.
“A lot of the homeless people have to go wash in the park where there’s no hot water,” Williams said. “That’s not too bad in the summer, but in the winter, washing like that can give you pneumonia. This new place is going to be a big help to a lot of people.”