The Sisters of Providence have long believed that every human being has the right to adequate shelter in a place where their dignity is sustained and positive growth fostered. The first task the community’s foundress, Emilie Gamelin, tackled was sheltering the aged and infirm. In 1827 she established a home on the ground floor of a parochial school building because she worried about the elderly women in Montreal. Recognizing the need for more space, she 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.”
Providing Shelter in the West
The Sisters of Providence carried on this tradition as soon as they arrived in the West. Mother Joseph had just landed in Vancouver, Washington when a sick, cold and homeless 85-year-old man came to her seeking shelter. Even though there was hardly any space 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.
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 West Seattle, Washington in 1924, followed by Ozanam Home in Tacoma, Washington in 1929 and St. Luke’s Infirmary in 1945. With the rebuilding of Mount St. Vincent 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.
Challenges Facing Seniors Today
Americans on fixed incomes face tremendous costs for shelter, food, clothing, medicine and transportation. 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 Providence Supportive Housing 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 year, Providence House opened in Yakima, Washington.
Today we have 16 supportive housing facilities in three states and we serve more than 790 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.