Dominican Sisters of Adrian: Catholic Charities USA Joins Coalition to Make Housing a National Priority

Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, right, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, speaks with Dr. Megan Sandel of Children’s HealthWatch during a panel discussion on housing. (Photo Courtesy of Catholic Charities USA)

January 24, 2020, Washington, D.C. Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) joined a coalition of organizations involved in the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign, focused on making affordable housing a national priority. Leaders of these organizations participated in a panel discussion during a special event, “Broadening the Movement: Housing as a National Priority in 2020,” held January 16, 2020, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of CCUSA, spoke of her agency’s involvement in meeting the critical needs that are facing people today – including housing. CCUSA is charged with the domestic humanitarian work of the Catholic Church in the United States and its territories, serving 12.5 million people in need each year.

“As a faith-based organization, assisting vulnerable people claim a life of dignity is not just another part of our work – it is a moral imperative,” Sister Donna said. “Our long-standing Catholic social teaching says that we are obligated to make a preferential option for those who are poor and vulnerable. And we’ve got a [housing] crisis on our hands.”

Sister Donna became aware of the compelling need to address the housing shortage after a theological reflection process that involved 58,000 CCUSA employees from across the country. The issue of the lack of affordable housing “arose in every single Catholic Charities agency, in every state, and in every territory of the country,” she said. “We have been operating over 35,000 units of housing of all types when I came into this job five years ago. But now we really felt the imperative to ramp that up significantly.”

Panelists at a special housing event, Broadening the Movement: Housing as a National Priority in 2020, were, from left: Dr. Megan Sandel; Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD; Fatima Goss Graves; and Irma Esparza Diggs. (Photo Courtesy of Catholic Charities USA)

Other panelists were Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition; Irma Esparza Diggs, Senior Executive and Director of Federal Advocacy for the National League of Cities; Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center; and Dr. Megan Sandel, MD, MPH, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch and Co-Director of the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center. Mike Koprowski, National Director of the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign, facilitated the discussion.

“Opportunity Starts at Home is an unprecedented, multi-sector campaign with leaders from many fields working toward increased investments to house the lowest income people,” Ms. Yentel said. “We’re here because 2020 is such a consequential year for our work.”

Dr. Sandel said “the United States will spend $111 billion over the next 10 years in avoidable healthcare costs because of housing instability. When people say we don’t have the money to tackle the housing crisis, I say that we’re spending it now and getting bad outcomes. Why don’t we spend it better and get better outcomes?”

Mr. Koprowski emphasized that housing is an issue for all Americans, regardless of their party affiliation. “Housing isn’t a blue state issue or a red state issue – it’s a purple issue,” Mr. Koprowski said. “There is a growing recognition that housing is inextricably linked to nearly every measure of having a quality life.”

Watch the panel discussion on the housing crisis. Sister Donna’s talk can be found at the 20-minute mark. Her description of CCUSA’s Healthy Housing Initiative can be found at about the 37-minute mark, in response to a question from Mr. Koprowski.

In addition, read the Global Sisters Report article by Dennis Sadowski of Catholic News Service about the panel discussion, beginning with quotes from Sister Donna about the housing crisis.