Catholic Charities seeks new shelter facility


By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Charities Jackson is looking for a new home for its domestic violence shelter. Advocates announced the need during a rally at the Jackson  Medical Mall Wednesday, Oct. 1, to mark the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz led the gathering in prayer. The keynote speaker, Shirley Smith, a survivor-turned-advocate, endured violence at the hands of her husband for 25 years. She has since written a book and helps others see their way out of abusive situations. Smith spoke about the potential to help more women with a new shelter. “When I drive around Jackson, I see empty apartment complexes and abandoned homes. When I see that I visualize serenity homes,” she said.
Other advocates, including the City of Jackson’s new police chief, spoke at the rally about the important role Catholic Charities has played in turning victims into survivors. At the end of the rally, attendees released purple balloons to symbolize freedom from violence.
The current Shelter for Battered Women has eight bedrooms, each of which has two beds and a crib so a woman can bring her baby or children with her. It houses a daycare and has a kitchen where the staff prepares meals. What it lacks, said Gwen Bouie-Haynes, division director for adult services for Catholic Charities, is offices, meeting and counseling spaces.
The operation has been in its current location for 29 years. Bouie-Haynes said they have outgrown the space, plus it is in need of a great number of repairs.
Arteria Puckett is the program manager. She said the shelter is much more than just a place to stay. “We ask that each person, after they get settled, start to look for employment and housing,” she said. “We do case management and assessment for them and we meet two-to-three times a week to check on their progress,” she added. Clients can take advantage of on-site counseling, parenting classes and support group meetings. The daycare helps mothers seek employment. Clients can eat three meals and one snack a day at the shelter and get referrals for necessities such as clothing and groceries.
Puckett said the shelter has very limited storage space so while she can keep a few toiletries she cannot even keep donated clothes on-site. Many women and children have to leave their situation with literally the clothes on their backs and nothing else. Puckett has to send them to another agency to get clothes.
Clients are allowed to stay for 30 days initially. Near the end of that time, a case worker will see where they are in the job and housing search and come up with a longer-term plan for living independently. Even after a family leaves, shelter employees make follow-up appointments to make sure families have access to the resources they need to continue to live free of violence.
Puckett told the story of one woman who was able to go from having no transportation, childcare, job or apartment to being independent in just a little more than a month. A case worker was able to work with a landlord on the deposit and with dedication and a good attitude, the client hopes to continue to turn her life around. The client still uses the daycare and has hope of continuing to turn her life around.
Bouie-Haynes said she would like to expand the program’s services with a new facility. “We would like to partner more with stakeholders, such as law enforcement, have round table discussions, things like that,” she said. The lack of meeting space makes these partnerships and other potential program offerings difficult.
An ideal new shelter would include at least 12 rooms for families as well as rooms for a house manager and overnight weekend staff, a commercial kitchen, daycare facilities including a playground area for children, storage and office space for staff, meeting and conference rooms. It has to be on a bus line, close to employment and retail opportunities and, of course, be a secure facility.
“If we had a facility to offer those components, we really could reach significantly more people in our nine-county service area,” said Bouie-Haynes. They currently serve 250 people a year, 150 of whom are children. The program has some money that could be used for renovating an existing facility and her dream would be that someone would donate a property.
In the meantime, a search and fund raising continues. The shelter can always use volunteers. Bouie-Haynes said they need a nurse to help with intake screenings. People are also welcome to come host birthday or holiday parties for the children who are staying in the shelter.
The daycare can also use volunteers to read to the children. Potential volunteers will have to go through a background check and child protection training. Contact Catholic Charities at 601-355-8634 to volunteer.

Migration center seeks new funding


Former and current employees of the Migrant Support Center advocate for immigration reform at the state capitol. This is just one of many ministries of the office (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Migrant Support Center, a ministry of Catholic Charities Jackson formerly called the Immigration Clinic, files between 700-800 cases a year with a staff of one caseworker, a part-time assistant and a contract attorney. The center provides a variety of direct services to the immigrant population in the area, including family-based services to individuals seeking adjustment of immigration status, work authorization, naturalization and citizenship, as well as interpretation and translation services.
The center is now seeking new sources of funding. The grant money that started the service has run its course. Teresita Turner, the director of the center, said the center offers much-needed services with its limited resources.
“This is about more than just paperwork. This is about changing lives,” said Turner. “Seeing a family reunited that has been separated for years, seeing a woman be able to escape an abusive situation, seeing someone have an opportunity to change their life, that’s what makes this important,” she said. One of her most memorable cases involved a man with five children who came to the U.S. to work 30 years ago. He was forced to leave part of his family back home. While he was home for a Christmas visit he was kidnapped and held for months while his kidnappers tried to extort money from his family. When he finally escaped, Turner was able to get him asylum and had a case for bringing the rest of the family to protect them from future attacks.
These kinds of cases fit right in with what Catholics are called to do, according to Greg Patin, executive director of Catholic Charities. “Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center brings to life a number of the principles of Catholic social teaching,” said Patin. “Primarily, the center exemplifies the principle of the dignity of the human person. Each person is made in the image and likeness of God and does not lose their dignity because of circumstance, poverty or country of origin. We demonstrate the principle of the dignity of work – the right of all people to be co-creators with God in the world by having access to decent and productive work,” he said.
Immigration services are just the tip of the iceberg, said Turner. The center seeks to educate its clients. “We teach English, we do presentations on taxes, we explain their rights and responsibilities so they can be good citizens and participate in their communities, even if they are just here visiting or working,” she said. She has even helped translate a driver’s manual so clients can understand the rules of the road.
Her clients range from students to workers in the construction, agricultural and service industries. She ticked off a list of at least 20 countries from which her clients hail, Nigeria, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, India, and the Philippines.The list goes on and on.
New immigrant business owners generated $181 million in net income in Mississippi in 2010, according to the American Immigration Council. Foreign born entrepreneurs own more than four percent of all businesses in the state. Students are also a part of the economic picture, contributing more than $42 million to the state economy annually. The council stated that more than a third of the immigrants in Mississippi are naturalized citizens.
Many of the Migrant Service Center clients are eligible for a fee waiver from the government. Others are in the U.S. seeking political asylum or have become victims of crime. Turner has had cases of women who came to the U.S. to be with a fiancé only to discover that person is abusive.
Turner said migrants who are victimized are granted a special protected status if they cooperate with authorities. One of the families she helped was robbed four times. When they told Turner, she was able to put them in touch with the police. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and several police departments across the state have asked Turner to lead workshops or assist in their cases.
Migrants can apply for visas or green cards on their own, but the process is complicated and fraught with pitfalls. They may get all the way through the initial paperwork process, but if they have forgotten one item of documentation or misunderstand one step, they lose their chance. Simpson Goodman, the attorney for the center, said understanding their rights and responsibilities can make all the difference.
The center cannot help anyone who entered the country illegally. Those who cross illegally, said Turner, must return to their home countries and apply for entry.
Sometimes, Turner is able to refer migrants to appropriate auxiliary resources. She had one client who was homeless, had lost his green card and had mental health issues. Not only was Turner able to get his documents back in order, she was able to locate his family, who were overjoyed to welcome him home.

The center also hosts consulates from many nations. “Basically, the consul will come and we will secure a place for them and be on hand to help with paperwork so people can come renew their passports or other paperwork,” she explained.
The field of immigration is a constantly changing landscape, said both Turner and Goodman. “We have to take training constantly to stay current on laws, on who is eligible for asylum and more,” she said. This training takes time and money from the already strained budget. Turner used to have a case worker in Vardaman, but budget constraints cut that position. Now she has to travel all across the state to try and serve the growing population.
Turner said the board of directors is seeking money from corporations who rely on foreign workers, but they are also making an appeal to individuals and parishes to send the money needed to keep the doors open. “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We strive every day to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our land,” said Patin.
Contact Michael Thomas at Catholic Charities at 601-355-8634 or to donate. Mention Migrant Support Services on all checks.