By Sharon Burns
EL CENTRO — “Jesus was born homeless, and there was no place for (the Holy Family) to sleep.”
“This is the need in front of us now,” Cardinal Robert W. McElroy told those gathered at the public launch May 31 of the day center Catholic Charities opened to help the homeless get on their feet. “When we welcome people seeking food and shelter, we see in these men and women the person of Jesus Christ.”
He blessed the center and the people who entered its doors.
The center is a one-of-its-kind facility in Imperial County that provides “wrap-around” services seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Homeless individuals can eat there, do laundry, take a shower, or take a respite from extreme temperatures. They can also get referrals to address needs, such as for mental health issues, substance-abuse problems, to find a job, or to obtain disability benefits.
The modular building is located behind Catholic Charities’ offices at 250 W. Orange Ave. The center had a soft opening on Feb. 15.
Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor, CEO of Catholic Charities, said that the center served 388 individuals just in the last two months, 75 percent of them from El Centro. The others came from nearby Calexico, Brawley, Imperial and Holtville.
The director of the Imperial County Department of Social Services, Paula Llanas, was among the guests on hand, which included El Centro council members; a representative from U.S. Senator Alex Padilla’s office; Father Mark Edney, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish; the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament; and two clients of the center.
“We have close to 1,000 unsheltered individuals in our county,” Llanas said.
The department is a partner of the center, as are the City of El Centro and the state government.
Llanas said it’s looking for funding to be able to provide the clients affordable housing, mental health assistance, among other services.
The regional director for Southern California for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Maurice Lyles, was also on hand. He said there is funding available from the state for housing, with “$58 million allocated to this region.”
In his remarks, the cardinal cited the Gospel of Matthew (14:13-21), where Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread to feed a hungry crowd of 5,000.
“This is the need in front of us now,” he said.