Shelter the homeless: Kathy Gibbons opens doors with love

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Kathy Gibbons, a volunteer at André House’s transitional home, said the core mission is to “always be hospitable and friendly to everyone who comes to the door and to put the face of Christ in front of everything we do.” (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Kathy Gibbons, a volunteer at André House’s transitional home, said the core mission is to “always be hospitable and friendly to everyone who comes to the door and to put the face of Christ in front of everything we do.” (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

Practical ways to shelter the homeless
  • Donate to ­organizations that offer transitional housing like André House
  • Help build houses with Habitat for Humanity,
    (800) 422-4828
  • Volunteer at André House, the St. Vincent de Paul Society or St. Joseph the Worker
  • Advocate in your community for low-income housing and assistance for the homeless
  • Treat homeless persons with dignity by making eye contact and offering a ‘care package’ of toiletries, fast-food gift cards and a prayer card

Kathy Gibbons was a single mother with a 10-month old baby when she came home to find her landlord had dumped all her belongings in the driveway and changed the locks.

“I told her I was paid through the end of the month,” Gibbons said. “She said, ‘You have until the end of the day before I call the police.’ I was in the middle of establishing child support.”

Gibbons was just about to check into a local homeless shelter when a friend called to offer her a room. “I stayed with Josie for two months,” Gibbons said. Another friend offered his van to help move her stuff and even rented a storage locker for her.

At one point, she had to swallow her pride and accept a food box. “I cried all the way back home,” Gibbons said. “I accepted one food box from St. Vincent de Paul and have been giving food away ever since.”

Back in the early 1980s, Gibbons was active at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe. Students there were getting involved with a new charity in town known as André House. Today, the downtown facility serves 500-700 meals each evening and runs a nearby house of hospitality. The transitional housing can accommodate up to six men at a time.

On a steamy hot August afternoon, Gibbons answered the door to the immaculate, one-story house, revealing a water cooler and a stack of clear plastic cups. Street people often ring the doorbell, looking for a cup of water or other assistance. In the cooler months, some plead for blankets in order to keep warm.

Gibbons has been volunteering with the organization in one way or another since its inception in the Valley, but these days, she’s helping out at the transitional housing facility.

“I think in large part a lot of us who do this good work have lived some aspect of the need that we serve here,” Gibbons said. “I do and I have.”

She hails from a family of Irish immigrants who struggled to make their way in the United States.

“They had it tough when they got here but they made it with a little bit of assistance — and it killed them to ask for it,” Gibbons said.

A large portrait of St. André Bessette hangs near the dining room table where Gibbons sits drinking coffee. The residents are at work and not expected back until after 4:30 p.m.

“What I have learned since I made a commitment to this property six years ago is to try to live in the image of St. André,” Gibbons said, referring to the Congregation of Holy Cross’ first canonized saint and the person who inspired the work of André House in Phoenix. “His primary goal as a door greeter up in Canada at the house he lived in was to open the door to everyone and show the face of Christ — to be that simple but welcoming face of hospitality in that mirror image Jesus wants us to be.”

The phone at the house rings throughout the day. “The best part is you have a moment to share that ounce of comfort and hospitality. I never lose an opportunity to tell them to not give up,” Gibbons said.

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