Clean of Heart celebrates 10 years

A volunteer at Clean of Heart in Columbia helps at the outreach center, where homeless men and women can grab a shower and coffee while their clothes are cleaned. (Provided)

DIOCESE—Over the past decade, homeless men and women across the state have been able to receive clean clothes and a new sense of dignity thanks to a ministry of Catholic Charities called Clean of Heart. 

 Founded in the Midlands in 2011, Clean of Heart celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and a legacy of humble but important service.  The ministry offers shower and laundry facilities for the homeless. 

According to statistics compiled by Catholic Charities, since the program’s beginning volunteers have laundered well above 16,000 loads of laundry for more than 1,000 different clients. The volunteers themselves have logged more than 12,000 hours of service for the homeless. 

On visits to Clean of Heart sites, clients also frequently are given toiletries and other supplies, plus get a chance to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, some fellowship and good conversation while they wait. 

In a nutshell, the outreach offers both physical and spiritual relief from the stress of living on the streets. 

Clean of Heart’s first facility opened in Columbia at 1219 Laurel Street, where it is still located. The simple brick building has space for washers and dryers, as well as a separate shower area where clients bathe while their clothes are laundered by volunteers.

Sister Angelita Vazzaro of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist supervises daily operations at the Midlands site, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. She said the ministry had to close for several months in 2020 because the pandemic forced many volunteers to cancel their hours. Clients returned immediately, however, once the doors were reopened on Nov. 1, with increased sanitization, mask-wearing and proper social-distancing in place. 

Clients express their appreciation for the outreach and its volunteers. (Provided)

Sister Angelita said Catholic parishes and other groups in Columbia have also kept the ministry stocked with detergent, soap, and other supplies for the clients since Christmas. Over the years, people in the area have come to realize what an important role Clean of Heart plays in a city with a large homeless population. 

Thomas Williams, a former client, knows how important a simple hot shower can be. He spent three years living in a homeless shelter and on the streets, and received help from Catholic Charities before landing a job at a local restaurant. 

Williams said hot showers are not only an issue of dignity,but of health. 

“A lot of the homeless people have to go wash in the park where there’s no hot water,” he said. “That’s not too bad in the summer, but in the winter, washing like that can give you pneumonia.” 

In the fall of 2020, Clean of Heart expanded to include mobile services in the Upstate. The shower-facilities on wheels travels to different locations each week and enables Catholic Charities to reach people across the region. 

The mobile unit comes to clients at San Sebastian Church on Old Buncombe Road, at the central Catholic Charities office off Douthit Street, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, and St. Paul Church in Seneca on different weekends of the month. 

The unit includes three shower stalls, a toilet and a sink. Volunteers take each client’s information and hand them a bag of toiletries and a towel. Showers are timed so everyone can get a turn during the mobile unit’s visit. Toiletries and other supplies are donated by the parishes where the mobile unit operates. 

“This is a great way to get the parishes involved in the mission, and we love to be able to help as many people as we can by making good hygiene available, especially during the pandemic,” said April Bittner, a client advocate for the agency’s Greenville office.

A third location, which opened in Myrtle Beach in 2018, has closed, but there are plans to continue the services at a future date, according to Catholic Charities staff members.