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How a connection President Nelson made in 2012 led to an interfaith homeless project in 2021

Young volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unload items from a truck on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Latter-day Saint Charities has joined with multiple partners to help the homeless in Milwaukee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is engaged in a public-private project with the Catholic Church and local government to assist the homeless in Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee homeless project

Latter-day Saint Charities has joined forces with the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the city health department and the county’s housing division to help Wisconsin homeless transition into permanent housing.

On Wednesday, about 25 volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unloaded $50,000 worth of new furniture and other supplies provided by Latter-day Saint Charities into Clare Hall, which had been dormitories for retired Catholic nuns, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Missionaries and volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unload items from a truck on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Latter-day Saint Charities has joined with multiple partners to help the homeless in Milwaukee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The furnishings, transported from Salt Lake City, Utah, included kitchen tables, chairs, beds, nightstands, dressers and other basic items. Most of the furnishings will be used to create a free furniture bank for people moving from the facility to permanent housing, according to a news release.

The St. Francis de Sales Seminary provided the Clare Hall facility to the Health and Human Services Housing Division of Milwaukee County for the project. The first people being housed are those diagnosed with COVID-19 who have been discharged from the hospital but have nowhere else to go.

The goal is to use Clare Hall as a transitional facility to give homeless individuals a place to live for a few weeks, a haircut, food, clothing, some vocational training and, when they find a more permanent place to live, a modest set of furniture and other basic supplies.

How the interfaith homeless project came about

The events that led up to this interfaith collaboration started in November 2012 when President Russell M. Nelson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited the area to speak at a devotional. While there, the future church president met the Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and they became friends.

In November 2012, President Russell M. Nelson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met the Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and they became friends (the two men are in the center). Also pictured is John Heller, left, then president of the Milwaukee Wisconsin North Stake, and right, Elder Jack Ward, an Area Seventy. The friendship led the two faiths to work together on a project to help the homeless in 2021.
Elder Jack Ward

Less than a year later, on June 17, 2013, The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed in Milwaukee as part of a summer tour to the Upper Midwest. Archbishop Listecki was invited to be a guest conductor and relished the experience.

With those memories in mind, Archbishop Listecki met with Elder Thomas T. Priday, an Area Seventy serving in the church’s North America Central Area, and others several months ago to discuss how they might work together to help the community, especially the homeless, during the pandemic.

The archbishop offered use of Clare Hall, but it needed furniture. Elder Priday said the church could provide furniture. Brett Seamons, the church’s communication’s director for Wisconsin, contacted Deseret Industries and a semitruck loaded with furniture arrived on Wednesday.

“When these people go to permanent housing, they get an apartment that’s funded by the county but they don’t have any money. They can’t afford a bed, table or chairs,” Seamons said. “What the church’s donation did was be a seed for the furniture bank. “We’re going to get the community involved in donating furniture on an ongoing basis, but it really gave them a shot in the arm so they can send their residents into their permanent housing with somewhere to sleep and where to sit.”

Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stack items in Clare Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Latter-day Saint Charities has joined with multiple partners to help the homeless in Milwaukee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

How those involved feel about the project

Elder Priday said the project is not only a “sweet, win-win situation” for all involved, but it’s an opportunity to serve as Jesus Christ would serve.

“During his mortal ministry, Jesus Christ fed the hungry and clothed the naked. He provided hope to mankind,” Elder Priday said in a statement. “We are grateful for his example as we contribute to the Milwaukee community.”

Archbishop Listecki agreed.

“The Catholic Church is always looking to join with others in serving the needs in our community,” the Catholic leader said in a statement. “This is another way the church defends life and lives out its gospel call to love one another. We welcome working with Latter-day Saint Charities in this corporal work of mercy to the benefit of those most in need.”

For Seamons, the most exciting part is the “collaboration” with multiple partners.

“There’s a lot of exciting collaboration for this one single cause and that is the most significant feature,” he said. “We’re hopeful to stay involved.”

What is Latter-day Saint Charities?

Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian arm of the church, conducted 1,031 relief projects in 151 countries during 2020, according to its recently released annual report.

Latter-day Saint Charities is currently sponsoring relief and development projects for people of all races and religions in nearly 200 countries.