Caritas Corner | A Tribute to Steve Handen & a Look to the Future

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Many who read this newsletter knew – or knew of – Steve Handen, who died last month. He was the man who began feeding the poor out of his home in Colorado Springs in the 1970s. As that ministry grew, it moved to the basement of First Baptist Church and ultimately to the Marian House, where it lives on today. But Steve was so much more than the founder of the city’s first soup kitchen. He was the personification of Christ’s charge to care for our poor and vulnerable.

It is easy to feel small in the shadow of Steve’s life and legacy. We work for our poor: Steve lived with our poor. He was not concerned about organizational growth or fundraising goals, strategic plans, or dashboards. What made Steve such a beautiful soul was his singular dedication to caring for the people who had nothing and no one to care for them. He could be difficult and gruff and was not afraid to tell you when he thought you were not doing enough or focused on the wrong things, but his kindness and love were always present.

Steve’s memory sits with me as I write this letter about our strategic goals for Catholic Charities in the upcoming year. As an agency, Catholic Charities provides supportive services to over 20,000 people a year. To serve as the charitable arm of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, it is important that we have a plan and are able to track and understand how we are doing in executing it.

Over the past four months, the Catholic Charities board and staff have engaged in deep discussion and reflection on how best to serve our poor and vulnerable in a world in which there is still a great deal of unknown caused by the continuing and future impact of COVID. The resulting plan does not change the fundamental work we are doing; however, it does address key areas of vulnerability for those we serve, and in the broader context of the systems that are in place that continue to address poverty and homelessness.

One of the main stressors for those we serve continues to be affordable housing, a pressure that has increased as a result of the pandemic. Our priority at Catholic Charities will focus specifically on ways we can support this critical need for the individuals and families we serve. Through partnerships with city and county governments in both Douglas and El Paso counties, we have been working on eviction prevention since the beginning of the pandemic. We expect that work to continue in the year to come.

We believe keeping people housed is one of the best interventions to address homelessness. However, for most that we work with, eviction prevention is more than just paying rent. It is a long-term effort in which staff works for months with clients to help build the systems of support that can help achieve long-term stability through life coaching and case management. This type of highly specialized work concerns itself with improvements in everything from employment to savings and education. Our goal is to increase the number of households that improve stability through their partnership with Catholic Charities.

Part of making these life changes for those experiencing poverty is about access. By making legal, health, nutrition, and employment services more readily available to marginalized populations, we believe we can equip those households with the tools they need to achieve stability on their own.

As we continue to move forward in this ministry of serving our brothers and sisters, we strive to do as Pope Francis encouraged in “The Joy of the Gospel”: to address both the structure of poverty and the immediate needs of those in the margins. In other words, we must be smart and plan well, but at the end of the day, we should always ask ourselves what Steve Handen would have done: open our hearts and love our neighbors in need.

Andy Barton is the President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.  This article first appeared in the Colorado Catholic Herald.

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