The Sisters of Providence have long believed that every human being has the right to adequate shelter in an environment where their dignity is sustained and positive growth fostered. The first work of the community’s foundress Emilie Gamelin, was sheltering the aged and infirm. In 1827, concerned about the plight of elderly women in Montreal, she established a home on the ground floor of a parochial school building. Recognizing the need for more space, she then sold part of her own property to buy a refuge to care for her aged friends. The first to come was a 102-year-old woman. Throughout Montreal, Emilie Gamelin became known as “Mother of the Poor” and people called her shelters “Houses of Providence.”
In the West, the Sisters of Providence carried on this tradition as well. Mother Joseph had just arrived in Vancouver, Washington when a sick, cold and homeless 85-year-old man came to her seeking shelter. Although there was little space available in their crowded convent school, Mother Joseph made room for him. This was the start of work that led to homes for orphans as well as the sick, aged and mentally ill.
In the years following, the Sisters of Providence continued Mother Joseph’s work in the West. By 1911, the Sisters had established Blanchet House in the old St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver, which served as the first hospice in the area. Mount St. Vincent opened in 1924, followed by Ozanam Home in Tacoma in 1929 and St. Luke’s Infirmary in 1945. With the rebuilding of “The Mount” in 1966, the DePaul Apartments for senior citizens became an integral part of the West Seattle health care and housing complex.
These institutions are visible expressions of the Sisters’ commitment to provide a caring environment for the aging, ill and disabled. This spirit continues today in Providence’s Supportive Housing ministry.
American’s on fixed incomes face tremendous costs for shelter, food, clothing, medicine and transportation. Sadly, many seniors and adults with disabilities are forced to make choices between food and heat, keeping their homes or sacrificing necessities. Because the Sisters of Providence believe that safe and affordable housing is the right of every human being, they established the Supportive Housing ministry in 1985.
Serving the homeless population of downtown Seattle, Providence Vincent House in Pike Place Market was the first permanent affordable housing program built by the Sisters of Providence. Later that same year, Providence House – a 48-unit facility for low-income elderly and disabled adults – opened in Yakima, Washington. Today, 12 supportive housing ministries located in three states serve more than 600 residents who might otherwise be homeless or marginally housed. Safe and affordable housing combined with a sense of community, services coordination and the care and attention of professional staff ensure that the independence, health and dignity of residents is preserved and celebrated.
In 2002, sponsorship, ownership and management of the Supportive Housing ministry was transferred from the Sisters of Providence to what was then known as the Sisters of Providence Health System, today known as Providence Health & Services. In accepting these roles, Providence Health & Services embraces the Mission and legacies of Emilie Gamelin, Mother Joseph and all the Sisters of Providence. Providence Health & Services recognizes that for vulnerable persons, housing is health care; that safe and appropriate housing is essential to the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Providence’s Supportive Housing ministry is the culmination of years of work – on paper, in steel, wood and concrete, and in the hearts and minds of all who share the vision of quality housing and services for the poor and vulnerable in our communities.