Homeless women's ministry in Norman changing lives

By Sally Linhart
The Sooner Catholic

One of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy found in Jesus’ teachings includes taking care of the homeless. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City heeded the call and discovered a need for social services in the Norman area.

They began outreach in low-income neighborhoods and discovered that many women who were homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, were not going to shelters because the shelters were co-ed.

Chelsea Rose, director of community engagement for Catholic Charities, said by avoiding the shelters many women were not getting services they needed. So, in 2014, Sanctuary Women’s Development Center opened and began offering services to women in a safe environment. This year, the program moved to a new and larger location on the campus of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman.
 
Sanctuary is a day center for women that serves about 15-20 women (and their children) on any given day and offers assistance with immediate daily needs. Women come to shower, do laundry, have a snack or just to receive encouragement.

Sanctuary provides women with essentials such as shampoo, sunscreen and other toiletries as well as the use of computers. They can take a nap or just relax and watch TV in a safe environment.
 
The new location operates on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
 
Sanctuary employs three staff members – an office manager, a case manager and an assistant director.

“The case manager is here to help women who are making steps forward – like looking for a job and working toward other long-term goals,” Rose said.

Sanctuary also offers life skills classes such as money management as well as recreational classes like art.
 
The goal of the center is to create a plan to overcome homelessness as quickly as possible, and to provide the tools needed to help women move forward.

“In the past year, 55 women have found permanent housing solutions with the assistance of Sanctuary in Norman,” Rose said.
 
Sanctuary also hosts events for their clients with the support of volunteers from the community and local parishes, Saint Joseph, Saint Mark and Saint Thomas More.
 
The most important message from the ministry is that women who feel lost and helpless have a place to go.

“There are options for women and their children outside of a massive co-ed shelter,” Rose said. “If a woman has needs and is looking for a safe place, she can come and be loved and cared for and begin healing. It really is a sanctuary.”

Sally Linhart is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.

Sanctuary Women’s Development Center, Norman
425 E. Tonhawa St.
(405) 701-8293