EL CENTRO – Catholic Charities in partnership with several agencies has broken ground on a day center for homeless men and women, a project that Bishop Robert McElroy called a “sign of hope” for this vulnerable population.
The day center will be the first of its kind in Imperial County, providing basic and wraparound services for men and women though not housing, said Catholic Charities’ CEO, “Vino” Pajanor. The agency operates residential shelters in Calexico and El Centro, for men and women respectively.
The 4,997-square-foot, pre-fabricated modular building will go up in a lot just behind the organization’s headquarters, located at 250 West Orange Avenue. It will have a kitchen, dining area, showers, men’s and women’s restrooms, laundry room, freezer, cooler, storage areas, a meeting room, and beds to accommodate up to 100 people.
The $2.5-million center is being built with grant funds approved by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors that came from the state Homeless Emergency Assistant Program. The plan is to open it by Thanksgiving.
The county identified 1,334 individuals experiencing homelessness and an additional 193 in shelters in the point-in-time count conducted in 2020, the last year it was done, according to Paula Llanas, assistant director for the Department of Social Services.
Catholic Charities proposed the day center to give homeless individuals a place to receive the services they needed.
“Our hope is that this center could be … where we are able to give them the ‘fish to quench their hunger,’ but also ‘teach them how to fish’ so they can move away from an unsheltered environment, either through Catholic Charities or other partners, and move on to supportive, permanent housing,” Pajanor said.
Various public and private agencies collaborated on the project and attended the groundbreaking, including the county government, the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council, the Cities of El Centro and Calexico, Nielsen Construction and Kitchens to Go.
“Everyone working together in all of these different agencies are collaborators in carrying out the work and fleshing out the notion that we are all a family, and that solidarity in our society is so important, particularly in times of hardship,” said Bishop McElroy, who participated in the groundbreaking on Aug. 30.
The bishop said he hopes to see three fruits come from this project: services to the homeless, continued collaboration among all the agencies involved, and “the life of the Church to emphasize once again that justice, compassion, and outreach are a dimension of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to be Catholic.”
Father Mark Edney, pastor of El Centro Catholic and Catholic Charities’ board member, said the project grew out of the work of the El Centro Catholic Homeless Ministry and its leader, Richard Enriquez, once himself homeless.
Father Edney hopes Catholics will volunteer and donate to the cause to make it “a real community project … This is just the beginning of something that is going to be great and beautiful.”
More information about services for the homeless is available at ccdsd.org or by phone at (619) 323-2841.