For 50 years, Magnificat Houses has nourished Houston’s homeless with much more than just food. By Chris Becker
On a scorching August morning, at the corner of Congress and Chartres, more than 250 men and women have lined up outside Loaves and Fishes, the soup kitchen operated by Magnificat Houses, Inc., a faith-based nonprofit that serves the homeless and mentally ill. They enter five at a time, greeted by longtime volunteer coordinator Larry Cronin. He’s part of a dedicated team who provides a hot, healthy meal once a day, six days a week, no questions asked. For many, this lunch will be their only meal of the day.
A tall, African American woman in a purple head wrap hesitates before entering. She shouts, “I don’t want to be around a bunch of men!” Cronin points her attention to the women already seated, then tells her about Myriam’s Hostel, Magnificat’s no-cost, three-day emergency women’s shelter located above Loaves and Fishes. The organization also provides transitional and permanent residency via its houses across the city.
The first Magnificat house was founded in 1968 by Rose Mary Badami, a social worker from Denison who witnessed firsthand the plight of the homeless during the Great Depression. After several state-funded mental health institutions suddenly closed, leaving patients to fend for themselves on the streets, Badami singlehandedly raised the funds to buy and restore a house in Midtown to serve homeless women struggling with mental illness.
Today, Magnificat operates 16 residential houses, as well as St. Joseph Clubhouse and Dona Marie Clubhouse, which offer advocacy, structure and work opportunities to those living with a mental health diagnosis. “The work itself provides dignity,” says Magnificat’s executive director John Boyles. “You don’t go there to play pool. You go there for a purpose.” On Oct. 6, Magnificat celebrates its 50th anniversary with a gala chaired by Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Gina Monti is one of many success stories. “We’re not just a homeless shelter,” says Monti, who came to Magnificat after years of homelessness, drug abuse and physical illness. “It’s a restorative environment. To be a part of us is to know something much more lasting.” Now sober for more than five years, Monti is a resident volunteer at Myriam’s Hostel, and is on the org’s communications team. On the rare occasion a dinner meal is dropped off at Loaves and Fishes, she bikes to homeless encampments to spread the word.
“We are all homeless, but we have this great gift that has been given to us. So we just try to share that with each other.”