Imagine being homeless, pregnant and traumatized — perhaps a victim of sex traficking. Where would you turn for help? Soon there will be a place to go here in Southeast Missouri.
Ground was broken on Wednesday, Oct. 20, for a new crisis maternity home serving Southeast Missouri.
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri broke ground for LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home at 535 Main St., Cape Girardeau.
Catholic Charities currently operates a LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home in Springfield for homeless pregnant women and young children. Since opening in late 2012, 105 healthy babies have been born to LifeHouse residents, none of them with illegal drugs or alcohol in their systems.
This success drove a desire to create a similar home in Cape Girardeau, to serve the needs on this side of the state.
Bishop Edward Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau performed a ceremony of the blessing of the ground. Having served in this area for five years, he remembers attending a fundraiser for the Springfield LifeHouse and hearing the comment, “Bishop, we need a Life-House in Cape Girardeau,” he said. “So this has been a dream longtime coming.”
Rice said he had conducted a Mass that morning with school children in Benton, and he had told the students, “Talk is cheap. Our actions speak louder than our words.”
Speaking to those gathered at the ground-breaking, he continued, “And that’s exactly what we’re doing here this morning as we break ground. We’re showing people, yeah, you can talk real nicely about being pro-life and all that stuff. That’s easy. The hard part is getting the shovel into the dirt and turning it over and making a difference. That’s why all of you are here today.”
Rice thanked those on the Capital Campaign and those who have donated. “Talk is cheap. You have shown by your actions that you want to give meaning to your words.”
“Catholic Charities has a mission to help those in need,” added Cape Mayor Bob Fox. “And LifeHouse is going to be a completely different kind of project for Southeast Missouri to help homeless pregnant women get on their feet and teach them life skills and educate them and give them health services. But most of all, it preserves a life, and that’s what’s important. We thank you for choosing Cape Girardeau and making this commitment to our community and to the Southeast Missouri area.”
Maura Taylor has served as executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri since 2011. She said the agency got its start “in disaster work” helping out after a tornado ripped through Joplin and Southeast Missouri experienced severe flooding. “Catholic Charities was working on both sides of Southern Missouri in those early years,” she recalled.
“Out of that work, we saw so many other vulnerable individuals needing help. We also saw gaps in services. So then, in 2012, we were approached by the Springfield community leaders who said, ‘We have a vulnerable population — homeless pregnant women — and it’s growing. Can you do some work to help these women?’”
A monastery became available in late 2012. Catholic Charities secured the use of that property to open a Life-House Crisis Maternity Home two days after Christmas. By year’s end, two mothers and a toddler lived there.
“The goal of the program was to work to have healthy moms and healthy babies,” Taylor said. “Most of the women we were serving weren’t getting prenatal care. They didn’t have shelter. They didn’t have food.
“They needed a place that was safe, because most of our moms were coming from severe trauma. Many of them had experienced child abuse as children. Many of them were experiencing domestic violence. Many of them were even being sex-trafficked. They needed a safe, secure place where they could heal, where they could build hope and have an opportunity for a brighter future for themselves and their babies.
“We developed a program that addressed all those areas,” she said.
Homeless pregnant women over the age of 18 and their children under 5 are eligible to become residents.
LifeHouse helped the women build self esteem and get mental health services.
“Eighty percent or more have an active drug history. So we got them connected with the services so they could live in a sober living environment and work towards beating addiction, so they could have a healthy baby,” she said.
“We put together a professional staff. We have a nurse on staff. We have social workers. We have a mental health professional, and we have 24/7 security, so the women are safe.
“They also have to work the program. This is about personal accountability. We give them a path to employment, to education, to the life skills so they can be long-term successful once they leave LifeHouse.”
LifeHouse offers an aftercare program to help women for up to two years after they leave. “We walk along side them for two years as they are working on their personal goals, so they can be successful long-term.”
Homeless pregnant women over the age of 18 and their children under 5 will be eligible to become residents.
Why bring LifeHouse to this area?
“Because some of the same challenges I told you about that were happening in Springfield were happening here,” Taylor said. “You have some of the highest poverty rates in the state; generational poverty is prevalent in Southeast Missouri, just like over in Southwest Missouri. You also have a high number of babies being born in your NICUs that are addicted to drugs, so you have a drug problem. You have poverty. You have families and women who are homeless, and there are not a lot of shelters. So this program really can fit a need that will turn lives around for moms and their babies.”
Southeast Missouri also suffers from some of the highest infant mortality and maternal morbidity rates in the state, she added. LifeHouse addresses some of the underlying health concerns.
In 2017, the property at 535 Main St. was donated to Catholic Charities for the LifeHouse. Other churches have offered help out as well. Taylor said this is an ecumenical effort.
“LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Center of Southeast Missouri will come into existence through the love, the generosity and kindheartedness of people of many Christian faiths in this community,” added Richard Cuba, general chairman of the campaign. “Those people are much like the Good Samaritan who heard and answered the cry for help. It is in that spirit that we break ground today.”
Michele Marsh, director of special projects for Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, noted that some dirt from the monastery in Springfield — the site of the original LifeHouse — had been brought to mix with the dirt in Cape.
“In mixing this dirt, we humbly offer all of our successes and lessons learned as we are united in one in mission and service.”
LifeHouse is scheduled to open in December 2022. It will be built by Penzel Construction Co. of Jackson.