Standing next to the door of their brand new bedroom (No. 204), Cristina Abe and her two young children Angelina and Carlos Jr. could not hide their happiness.Just a month ago the Abe family (including Carlos Sr.) was homeless. They had arrived in California from Arizona a month earlier. Unable to find affordable housing after been displaced from an old apartment building they had been living at, they were allowed to stay just for a few weeks at the seniors’ apartment building where Carlos’ mother resides.

A call to 211 led to obtaining contact information of places they could seek help, including Los Angeles County’s multiservice center, where they were in turn referred to Catholic Charities.

On March 19 they were among the families celebrating the opening, dedication and blessing of their temporary home, the Elizabeth Ann Seton Residence, an emergency shelter complex for homeless families, pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly. The residence --- in Long Beach’s Century Villages at Cabrillo, a few blocks from Pacific Coast Highway in West Long Beach --- is operated by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.

“Catholic Charities is a symbol of the social mission of the Church,” said Archbishop José Gomez during his remarks minutes after the opening prayer led by Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis.

The opening program included a poem performed by children residing at the shelter, and remarks from Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal; Louise Oliver, chairman of the board of Century Housing; Brian D’Andrea, president of Century Villages at Cabrillo; Sean Rogan, executive director of the L.A. County Community Development Commission; and Anna Totta, regional director of the San Pedro Region of Catholic Charities.

“You are doing great good for our country and community during these hard times,” Archbishop Gomez continued. “There have been too many unemployed for too long.”

He emphasized the importance of building shelters for families and children in need as well as for assisting the elderly and the disabled.

“This is part of the service and love to the poor needed in L.A. County,” he noted. “This is not only about social work, but we do it because of the love of Jesus Christ.

“Today we ask St. Joseph (whose feast day is March 19), for whom I have a personal devotion, to protect and defend the homeless, the immigrants and unemployed in his role as a faithful man, husband of our Blessed Mary and foster dad of Jesus.”

The archbishop praised the life of the first American-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, who “as a wife and mother understood the struggles that families go through.” At 30, she was widowed and penniless with five children to feed. Eventually, she became the founder of the first American religious order (the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph) and the first American Catholic orphanage.

He commended the work of Catholic Charities’ personnel in supporting families in their journey towards permanent housing.

The main goal of the shelter is to assist families and individuals to transition from crisis (being homeless) to stability (long-term housing).

The program, led by Vanessa Romain, helps residents to set “realistic goals,” seek resources and gain skills to become self-sufficient. Families stay 45 days to access stable housing.

One of those residents is Elizabeth Soesoe. Almost overnight, the stay-at-home mother of five found herself “devastated, alone” with her children without the financial or physical support of her husband of 19 years, Vili, who unexpectedly passed away in 2005 after suffering a stroke while in a trip to his native Samoa.

“Here I found hope and light at the end of the tunnel,” she said while fighting tears. “You have given me a peace of mind,” she told the dedication day audience, paraphrasing Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you fed me; I was naked and you filled me with words of wisdom.

“In a nutshell,” she concluded, “you have given me a new beginning.”

The two-building complex funded through two state grants, features 14 bedrooms with a total of 56 bunk beds that can accommodate 56 individuals. It includes a dining room, laundry room, a small kitchen with new appliances and a large kitchen featuring new state-of-the-art commercial appliances. 

Also new is the furniture in each of the rooms and the playground equipment on a patio between both buildings.

Founded in 1984, Catholic Charities’ residence  program broke new ground among shelters in L.A. by accepting boys over the age of 12 and men, at a time most shelters accepted only mothers with young children.

In 2011, 351 persons were helped at the old Elizabeth Ann Seton Residence next door to the new facility. About 61 percent were children and youth under the age of 18. 

Since Catholic Charities’ inception in Long Beach, the nonprofit has served more than 9,200 homeless, including men, women, children and youth. 

“This is a program where we help people wake up right away and not stay stuck,” remarked Romain, who acted as mistress of ceremonies.

“This is a program that helps families get rid of a cycle of poverty,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar, who led a closing prayer.

He reminded participants how St. Joseph was a model of someone who trusted his dreams and of how salvation happened when “a woman said yes so we can become more and more like our Jesus.”

For donations to Catholic Charities, visit

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