Holiday houses become haven for homeless

Giving shelter to those made homeless by earthquakes has prompted some new ministries for Sisters of Mercy living in Christchurch. This has been especially true for a community of four, based in Christchurch East. One of their number, Sr Pauline O’Regan describes their response…..

A few weeks after the big quakes in September 2010 and February 2011, the sisters living in east Christchurch became increasingly aware that some families had seen their homes completely destroyed and were desperate for a place to live.

“We approached the Leadership Team of our Congregation, to ask if the two holiday houses in Christchurch could be made available to such families,” Pauline reports. “The responses was an immediate and generous yes.

“As a result, one family moved into our Heron Street house in South Brighton, and another into the Mercy house at Neptune Place in North Brighton. One family stayed for a year, and the other for two years. At the time, it was virtually impossible to get a house anywhere in Christchurch, but both families moved on as soon as they acquired a house of their own.”

There are four sisters in Pauline’s community in Christchurch East; the others in this community are Helen Goggin and Marie McCrea in Linwood and Mary Wood who lives in New Brighton nearby. The power of their example proved contagious, says Pauline.

“As more and more people were seeking help, our sisters approached the Little Company of Mary who also have a holiday house in South Brighton. Their response was also positive, and in the two years since the big ‘quakes, four different families have had shelter in their home.”

Following the quakes, the four sisters in Christchurch East set up a Mercy Outreach Ministry, to provide shelter and support for the homeless in their area. They received initial funding from their Congregation, with ongoing donations from the Catholic diocese in Christchurch and from generous individuals over the months that followed.

Two years on, Pauline notes that the greatest need now is to help families seeking temporary accommodation. “The great repair work has begun, and people have to move out while their homes are being repaired or demolished and prepared for rebuilding. In some cases, sisters have taken people into their own homes for this temporary phase.

“Now, in 2013, the house in Heron Street has been made available for families in need of temporary shelter, whether it’s for a few weeks or months, or even for a year, if their house has to be rebuilt or relocated.

“It’s a drop in the ocean of need,” says Pauline, “but it is a great joy to be able to do the little we can, in sheltering the homeless in the best Mercy tradition. We feel that Catherine McAuley might be smiling in heaven.”