We created Joseph's House because a dear friend and mentor, Fr. Bob McDermott and I were literally stepping over people who were sleeping on the porch of our office at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Church in Camden. After giving bus fare and sandwiches to go to missions in Trenton and Atlantic City, we realized we were both starting to go out the back door to avoid requests for help. Something more needed to be done and we needed to respond in a different way. We felt very clearly the call to follow our hearts and respond to the need before us. It was then that Fr. Bob asked me to find out all I could about local services for the homeless.
By the spring of 2010 a few key people had joined our efforts and Joseph's House had the beginnings of a Board of Managers. Generous and wise partners shared their experiences in providing services to people dealing with homelessness. One bit of advice that struck my heart then and remains with me even now came from our friends at The Bethesda Project and Project HOME in Philadelphia. They suggested that we respond by opening a winter low demand Café where people could drop in, warm up, have coffee and, if they chose to, could spend the night. We would provide food and shelter while getting to know the people. We'd learn from them what was needed and respond accordingly. Their needs would determine the path and future of Joseph's House.
By December of 2010 we were incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit and in January 2011 we opened our Café doors on Stevens Street in Camden, NJ.
That first Café operated for three months and taught us a lot. Immediately we learned that the need for shelter was greater than we estimated. We needed greater capacity. We saw first-hand the need for mental health and addiction services, for medical and Veterans services. As the Good Samaritan 'got his hands dirty' by caring for his neighbor in need, we tried to do the same. We also saw the need and opportunity for volunteers to share this work with us.
The second Café operated for five months and introduced social services that were provided by community partners. Volunteers responded generously by coming each night of the week to help prepare and serve a simple meal and interact with our guests. By the end of our second Café, Joseph's House adopted the tag line, 'Caring for God's Presence in our Midst'. These were Fr. Bob's words as he was sharing with the Board his understanding of the work of Joseph's House. To Fr. Bob, the guests who came seeking shelter and services represented God. Jesus identified himself with the poor and encouraged his followers to do as he did. 'As often as you did this (care for) for the least of my brothers, you did it for me'. So, Joseph's House committed itself to caring for the needs of our brothers and sisters in the spirit of Jesus.
We opened the doors for our third Café, November 2012, still on Stevens Street in Camden, and operated there until April. During this third season, the Board committed to finding a location that would allow us to operate year-round, shelter more people, and provide more of the services that were needed.
In August of 2013, with the help of TD Bank, JBJ Soul Foundation, Connelly Foundation, Camden City Office of the Mayor and City Council, and the Camden County Freeholders, Joseph's House bought the building at 555 Atlantic Avenue and undertook a five-month renovation project. By January of 2014, our dream became reality. We could operate year-round, 365 days a year and offer hospitality to 75-80 guests per night. We could expand our program by making greater connections to medical providers and social services. By providing food, shelter and individualized social services, we could provide the care that was needed and respond as our hearts directed.
The years that followed, 2014 and 2015, confirmed our convictions that we were providing a vitally important service and that, if provided with encouragement and opportunity, our guests would respond. Increasingly, more and more guests transitioned out of homelessness into permanency.
In 2016, with the help of generous donors, we grew our program by bringing on an Intake Supervisor and Program Manager. These changes allowed us to prioritize the most vulnerable and increase our focus on case management while continuing to provide food and shelter. 532 guests stayed at Joseph's House in 2016 and 158 transitioned out of homelessness. The work continues and the spirit remains as it was, responding directly to the needs of our guests.