Fifteen years ago, Jesuit Father Bill Creed cofounded the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) in Chicago to offer retreats to an often-overlooked group: the homeless. Fr. Creed and Ed Shurna, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, have been helping homeless people build community, find hope and transform their lives through ISP ever since.
“Many outreach programs for the homeless try to address basic attributes such as food, clothing, shelter and employment,” said Fr. Creed. “However, when addiction is in play – and it often is for the homeless – there can be no real transition from poverty until the individual person has the inner resources to make different choices … Ignatian Spirituality believes that facing our brokenness begins with facing our truth and encountering the unconditional love of our God who actively labors with us and desires for us ever greater freedom.”
Fr. Creed recently shared about his own spiritual journey while conducting the retreats. Fr. Creed recalled that a man from Canada once showed up two days early at a workshop for which he had not registered, demanding free housing, a free workshop and a special diet. Fr. Creed became very angry with the man in front of the staff.
In response to Fr. Creed’s reaction, one of his colleagues commented on his lack of hospitality for a man who was “poor not only materially but psychologically and socially” and suggested Fr. Creed was “not only angry but also fearful” and out of touch with his own internal poverty.
Looking back, Fr. Creed said, “It was that event which began to lead me to listen inwardly, to my own brokenness, my vulnerability, to what was below my anger and fear. I am poor and that is a gift … We are invited to follow Christ’s poor, either in spiritual poverty or actual poverty.”
Since it began in 1998, ISP has grown into a national network of more than 400 lay volunteers who help homeless men and women through retreats and spiritual companionship, and a new survey shows that the project is helping. The ISP Outcomes Survey, a two-year study conducted in collaboration with a number of organizations and professionals, has confirmed that people who participate in ISP programs experience long-term internal and external change. According to the results, participants experienced a statistically significant decrease in loneliness and improvement in housing and employment six months after a retreat.
Fr. Creed said that feeling as though one is listened to, believed in, respected and trusted can be transformative in a homeless person’s life, and ISP can provide such listening presences. “We are all called to do this wherever we are,” he said.