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Pope Francis Center in Detroit receives $7M for fight against homelessness

The Detroit News

The Pope Francis Center in Detroit will receive $7 million from a California charitable foundation to help end chronic homelessness in the city.

The money comes from the Julia Burke Foundation, the center announced Thursday night.

The California-based organization partners with groups worldwide to supply food and other community needs, and supports education and social justice programs.

The funding will be used for a short-term or "bridge" housing complex to tackle the city's homelessness, the center said.

The center, which became a nonprofit in 2015, helps guests with meals, showers, laundry and other services.

The contribution means the center has raised more than $15 million toward its $22 million fundraising goal for the project.

“We are truly humbled by the incredible generosity of the Julia Burke Foundation,” said Father Tim McCabe SJ, executive director of the Pope Francis Center. “Their $7 million contribution shows there is strong support for our efforts to bring an end to chronic homelessness in Detroit.”

The center is the only day center in Detroit that provides services on a large scale to 200 people a day, according to a news release announcing the gift. The site provides two "made-from-scratch" meals a day; laundry and shower facilities; rotating medical, dental and legal clinics; and housing assistance five days a week.

McCabe has pledged to end chronic homelessness in Detroit by 2030. A 40-unit bridge housing facility is part of that plan, which is expected to include intensive medical, respite, psychological, addiction, social and job-readiness services, according to the center. Also planned on site are a cafeteria, gym, library, classrooms and health clinic. Staff also will help guests to access permanent housing solutions.

The foundation said the center's dedication to Detroit's poor spurred the contribution.

“The Julia Burke Foundation invests in opportunities that enable people to lead a better life,” said Jerry Burke, co-founder of the Julia Burke Foundation. “The more we learned about the Pope Francis Center and its commitment to serving Detroit’s poor, we knew we wanted to be a part of this transformational project that will improve the lives of so many.”

An annual survey conducted in one night in January 2020 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, weeks before the pandemic hit, found 1,589 people were homeless in Metro Detroit, including 351 under age 18. That figure is down 19% from 2019, according to HUD.

Homelessness findings from that 2020 survey of Michigan as a whole — 8,638 people — represented an increase of 0.7% from 2019 and a decline in homelessness of nearly 70% since 2007, the agency said.

The report shows that most homeless people in Michigan, 88%, were sheltered in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs when the survey was conducted, while just over 1,000 people were unsheltered.

According to the most recent annual report from the Homeless Action Network of Detroit, the city's overall homeless population numbered about 10,006 in 2019, down from 10,744 in 2018.