After taking a needs-based assessment of the city, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth discovered a few things: there was no central clearing house for those in need, there was a real lack of public transportation, and there was no homeless shelter.
So the sisters stepped out in faith and started taking action. They gathered together local churches to determine how they could partner with existing ministries, and what new ministries should be created to meet the needs of those living in poverty. Thus was born Welcome Central, a transportation ministry and the Interfaith Shelter of Hope.
“What we kept hearing from people, from focus groups or from individuals living in poverty, was that people needed a clearing house where people could find out what agency does what – where they are, when they’re open, etc.,” said Sister Vickie Perkins, Director of Welcome Central and a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth for nearly 56 years.
Welcome Central opened on January 27, 2014 in eastern Leavenworth. Initial intake at Welcome Central includes completing a form and then being treated to coffee and snacks. The sisters and the volunteers who work with them try to assist with services that no one else offers: helping people apply for birth certificates and IDs, locate funds for security deposits, complete disability forms, and secure bus tickets back to their families in the aftermath of a relationship breakup.
“We don’t have any of the constraints of an organized agency, and there’s a real beauty to that. We can take people where they are. If we want to talk to somebody for two hours, we can do that. And that’s when you do really understand what’s going on. We’re able to just roll with the punches, and I really like that,” said Sister Vickie.
The sisters have big dreams for the future. They would like to be able to help people out of poverty, do classes, provide job interview skills classes, offer budgeting skill classes, etc. They hope to expand their Welcome Central space through a new building soon, where they can offer day programming and classes.
The sisters found that people living on low or no income had a hard time navigating their city. Getting to food banks and medical appointments is challenging for those without means. In 23 months of operation out of Welcome Central, volunteers have driven just over 38,800 miles, or about 1,700 miles a month.
Several of the drivers are sisters, usually five or six every week, who drive or help people fill out forms. The rest are volunteers and unpaid staff who come from churches and other interested groups.
Interfaith Shelter of Hope
The Leavenworth Interfaith Shelter of Hope, currently located on the 2nd floor of Catholic Charities in the downtown area, was opened December 15, 2014, and has been open every night since. It’s located just 10 blocks away from Welcome Central and accommodates up to 20 people nightly. It has a balance of women, men and children staying each night. The Interfaith Shelter of Hope provided 3,675 cots to people overnight in the year 2015.
The Interfaith Shelter of Hope is a collaborative effort of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, and churches, agencies and individuals in the surrounding community. Paid staff do intakes and assign rooms and cots to guests at the Interfaith Shelter of Hope, and then much needed support comes from local church volunteers. It takes 70 volunteers each week from approximately 25 churches and community groups to run the shelter, open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
The sisters know that persons who are homeless really take care of each other – and this shelter is one way that sisters can take care of them.
“Interfaith collaboration has been exciting, to watch people come together, and that’s really happened here in Leavenworth,” said Sister Vickie. “I love the opportunity every single day to walk directly with the poor. That is so life-giving to me. These are such wonderful people. It doesn’t take great big stuff… little things mean so much.”