By Sarah Smith, director, Mercy Partnership Fund
Catherine McAuley’s ministry of Mercy was rooted in her desire to connect those with resources and those without. She saw how sharing resources could help those in need. Almost 200 years after Catherine opened the House of Mercy in Dublin, Sister Dale Jarvis, a Sister of Mercy in Portland, Maine, brought together Mercy Partnership Fund and Portland’s Northern Light Mercy Hospital to help bring supportive housing to those battling addiction.
Sister Dale has always seen the power in Catherine’s practice of connecting people and resources. A former board member of Mercy Hospital in Portland, Dale learned from Mercy Associate Melissa Skahan, the hospital’s vice president of mission, that the hospital was having discussions with local groups to explore strategies to better address the heroin and opioid addiction epidemic. One of those organizations, Community Housing of Maine (CHOM), was looking for a low-cost loan to develop recovery residences and services for women and men navigating substance abuse recovery and homelessness and to provide services for participants across many need areas, including those displaced due to human trafficking. As a member of the Mercy Partnership Fund Subcommittee of Mercy Investment Services, Dale saw an opportunity to connect the two organizations and support CHOM’s trailblazing plan to successfully house a population that once seemed impossible to house.
Mercy Partnership Fund, formally established in 1995, invests in community organizations across 50 states and 60 countries addressing issues tied to the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy. Recognizing the need for CHOM’s services and the opportunity to serve a community where the Sisters of Mercy have ministered since opening Mercy Hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic, Mercy Partnership Fund provided a low-interest loan to CHOM.
“It has always been a priority for Mercy Partnership Fund to invest where Sisters of Mercy have history or currently are,” says Sister Dale.
The financing from Mercy Partnership Fund helped CHOM purchase and operate two duplexes for persons living with addiction and struggling with homelessness. During a visit to one of the homes, Dale witnessed both a sense of independence and a sense of community in the residents. She asked a resident which addiction was harder to give up—homelessness or drugs.
“She said it was harder to give up the addiction to homelessness,” she recounts. “She had to prove to herself that she could bathe every day and she’d have a bed every night.”
In 2021, the CHOM duplexes provided housing and services for more than 30 women. Without this programming, CHOM, now Maine’s largest supportive housing developer, says that unhoused and recovering individuals are 29 times more likely to end up in the hospital and up to 44 times more likely to be in jail when unhoused than when housed.
Building on these successes, CHOM is participating in the redevelopment of the former Mercy Hospital, which moved into a new facility in 2019. Several Mercy Partnership Fund investees are also supporting the initiative. CHOM’s portion of the multi-part development will include 95 units of supportive housing, all of which will be affordable. What began as a hospital in 1918 will be 500 new units of mixed-income housing, including supportive housing and affordable housing for low- and mixed-income tenants.
“The heart of Mercy is still there, and the Sisters of Mercy are still making a difference in that building,” Sister Dale says. “This is how, today, we make a difference.”