Volunteer experiences ‘face of homelessness’ at Mary Magdalene House
Once Dave Beitz began learning the names of the people who frequent Mary Magdalene House in Over-the-Rhine, his volunteer service became much more meaningful.
“Once you put a name to the face of homelessness, it becomes different. You start seeing these people routinely. You start knowing them. After you’re there a while and they know you, they come in and they talk. When they have problems, sometimes they sit down crying with you. You start feeling comfortable with these folks, and they start feeling comfortable with you,” said Beitz, administrator of the Miami University Data Center in Oxford.
He has been with the university for 30 years and lives with his wife, Jenny, in Miami Township, Hamilton County. They have five children. He decided to work with the homeless as a way to complete his field education project, a requirement for a lay ministry certificate at the Athenaeum of Ohio. After he completed 100 hours at Mary Magdalene House, he stayed on.
“Basically, we have to do 100 hours in something outside of our comfort zone. I didn’t want to do hospital chaplaincy. That’s not really not out of my comfort zone. The homeless area has always been out of my comfort zone.
“I had this feeling of fear a lot more in the beginning than I do now. When I first came down here on my first day, the people gather out in front. There were 30 or 40 of them at the front door and I had to walk through the middle of the group to get into the place. That was: ‘Suck it up. Take a deep breath, and let’s see if we can get through here without getting hurt.’
“Now it takes me almost as long to get in there because all the people want to talk to me. They know me. Everybody down there says, ‘Hi’ . It’s amazing. You walk the street there and people say. ‘God bless’ or ‘How you doing?’ We do a lot of good for them, so there’s almost a feeling they’re protecting us. They watch out for us.”
Mary Magdalene House is on Main Street between 12th and 13th streets in Over-the-Rhine. The house is operated Marianist Brother Giancarlo Bonutti. It was started by Father Dohrman Byers former pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish, Over-the-Rhine.
The facility opened in 1988 and today serves about 2,000 people a year — men and women but predominantly men. Not all clients are totally homeless but most are. The people are mostly from Over-the- Rhine, while some walk from downtown. The house provides about 22,000 showers annually and launders about 21,000 bags of clothing.
“We provide showers, clothes, a laundry service. We basically try to give back to people who are on the streets by letting them get a clean up and get a fresh set of clothing. The way it works is they come in to get a shower. On their first visit we provide them with whatever they need – pants, shirt, socks, coat,” Beitz said.
“We put all that clean stuff in a bag with their name on it and they go back in the shower, put on the new clothes and take off their old clothes and put them in the bag and we put it on a shelf. Then, we take those clothes and launder them, put them back in the bag, take it downstairs and hold on to it. If they want to come back the next day and get another shower, they can keep alternating those clothes day after day. We will launder them. We will give them other things, too, when they need them,” Beitz said.
“We’re all just a couple bad breaks away from being homeless. One bad decision is all it takes sometimes – not all that much,” Beitz said. “There are guys I’ve met down there and with one I had no idea he was homeless – very articulate well put together, just a nice guy. I would never have guessed that he just doesn’t want to do anything else. Some are homeless by choice. They don’t want the responsibilities.
“Others have criminal records and we deal with people who have mental issues. We have drug issues. But, the vast majority are very thankful; very grateful despite their lives.”
Mary Magdalene House welcomes donations. “We can use money any kind of clothing – predominantly male clothing, gently worn. We can use toiletries. We go through more than 2,000 toothbrushes, hundreds of pairs of pants. Some places give us laundry detergent, things like that. We go through a bunch of it. As we get are in the colder months, they need totes, gloves, coats. We need Vaseline.That’s how they stay warm. They coat their skin with Vaseline. It keeps the cold away.”
To make arrangements to drop off donations, contact Brother Giancarlo or any staff member or volunteer at 513-721-4811.
“You can drive up to the front of the place, park there, Call and let us know you’re coming and we’ll come out and get the donation. We have ladies come in during the week and sort through everything,” Beitz said.
The house is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. – noon Saturday.
This Everyday Evangelist feature first appeared in the February 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.