Two weeks ago, Chicago's Catholic Charities opened hygienic services offering homeless persons showers and a place to do laundry in the city's River North neighborhood.
“Our guests will have comfort of a warm shower, toiletries, bedding, clothing,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“These small mercies which most of us take for granted can help preserve health and restore hope to those who live at the margins of society. They can be a first step toward a life of self-sufficiency.”
On Wednesdays, guests at the St. Vincent Center at 721 N LaSalle Drive may claim a 30-minute shower spot from 10 a.m. until noon. Each person is given soap, toothpaste, shaving equipment, deodorant, and a set of clothes. The clients will also have access to a washers and dryers.
A trial of the program began two weeks ago and it was officially unveiled June 18. Since it began, the scheduled spots have been booked solid. The operating hours will expand depending on an increase of volunteers.
There are more than 80,000 homeless people in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Catholic Charities in Chicago has provided food and other social services to impoverished people five days a week, serving more than 250 people a day.
Matthew Shay, 27, a substance abuse counselor for Catholic Charities, administers the program’s intake. As a former addict and vagabond, Shay insisted that cleanliness influences positive change on a practical and symbolic level.
“When they give up hygiene, they’re mentally giving up and feeling hopeless,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“So when you provide that to somebody who doesn’t have it, it provides a sense of normalcy that common Americans take for granted. It’s a simple pleasure for us — simple pleasures that are really a privilege.”
In the last three years, Pope Francis inspired Rome-based facilities to provide laundry and bathroom services. In 2015, bathrooms were opened at St. Peter’s Square to provide showers and haircuts to homeless people. Two years later, a volunteer run laundromat was opened in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.
“The Pope’s Laundry” was opened after Pope Francis’s apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, challenging Catholics “to give a ‘concrete’ experience of the grace of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.”
Charitable works has been a major feature of Pope Francis' pontificate. The Pope has previously invited homeless men and women to dine with him and to experience the Sistine Chapel. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to attend to people on the “peripheries” of society, expressing the importance of the works of mercy.
“To want to be close to Christ demands to be near to our brothers, because nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a concrete sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy is made visible and tangible in concrete and dynamic action.”