The 1958 diaries of Dorothy Day (1987-1980), which should be regarded as spiritual documents that help minister her relationship with God and others, indicate that Day was experiencing threats of eviction throughout the year (Day, 1958). Day was in her early sixties when she received letters from the city of New York in 1958. It was clear that she had to be out of her NY Catholic Worker on Chrystie Street by the beginning of the following year. A woman who was a caregiver to the homeless was being threatened with homelessness herself. This did not stop her Catholic way of life, however. Continuing to protest civil air-raid drills, attending Church daily, praying for people in need, and feeding the poor, Day hired a lawyer and began the search for a new location to house the sick and suffering.
Having been a leader of the Catholic Worker for decades before 1958, the diaries indicate that Day had the necessary faculties for exercising the sacred ministry among her fellow NY Workers, who were also subject to the eviction notices and threats throughout the year. For they too had to deal with perhaps similar issues of homelessness and poverty that many others were facing in the soup line. Yet, their focus was still on the needs of the poor and those who were sick and hungry. Day and the Workers would continue their round table discussions, fill empty bowls with soup, and care for the souls of the poor and mentally ill. Day opened the door to all those who were hungry, sick, and needed a bed to sleep in. She did not ask about their criminal history, their ethnic background, or if they had just left an institution. According to Day, all were neighbors in Christ.
In what manner and in what places are people today suffering from eviction notices? How are we to learn from Day and her Workers when it comes to the care of others during challenging times? Those who are caring for the poor and sick should not be kicked out of their homes because of greed and lack of compassion. What can be done for the welfare and comfort of others, for our brothers and sisters in Christ?
The COVID-19 virus in our country has become widespread; and some people making decisions based on greed and their own selfish gains are profiting from it. Misled by politicians who care more about business profits and election votes, there is much work that needs to be done for the poor in America as well as the poor in other countries around the world. This does not mean to suggest that businesses should not flourish. What is suggested, however, is that the flourishing of human beings, especially the poor and marginalized, should be a priority. If our brothers and sisters of America seek to increase their material means for their own personal gains, more may suffer. The practical result of such care and concern will lead to more acts of charity and compassion, and perhaps those who’ve dedicated their lives to help others will be long regarded as useful persons of inspiration. Is this not what we teach in Catholic and Christian schools? Do we not teach that children should admire those who care for the souls of others, especially the poor, homeless, and mentally ill?
From this work, which has been inspired by the toils of the Catholic Workers many years before our current times, we should be promising those who care for others much hope, especially if they make the poor the priority. Today perhaps more than ever, people need to be supported and protected, with the interest and assistance of governmental programs and dioceses. There should be little to no room for self-centered greed when people are suffering. As for those who are being evicted that do not care for the poor, they too should be protected, and urgently, since the children of the Church are those who suffer.
In the recent months, researchers have claimed that there are a number of developing concerns regarding homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness’s Homelessness Research Institute states, “as COVID-19-related quarantines were being implemented across America, homelessness researchers were estimating the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness” (2020, 1). In addition, the researchers indicate that “$11.5 billion is necessary for 400,000 new shelter beds needed to accommodate everyone who is unsheltered and to ensure appropriate social distancing, and the creation of quarantine locations for the sick and exposed” (2020, 1). Are leaders considering the negative, long-term economic implications that may develop if we do not help families and individuals being evicted? Those who are forcing eviction are putting more financial pressure on shelters and Church organizations to fund and take care of the people, families, and children that do not have beds to sleep in.
Taking care of the poor and the homeless is a beautiful thing. It may seem as a daunting task, but the decisions that are being made around the issues of eviction, COVID-19, and homelessness will impact the lives of many, no matter how far it is in the future. Let us learn from Day and make our relationship with God and others a priority during these trying times. Let our love for others be beautiful, selfless, and radical as Day would practice in her own life during her eviction threats. It is in these moments that people should support local organizations, eviction prevention programs, and Church organizations by asking them what it is that they need. Whatever we can do to help families and individuals stay in their homes illustrates to some extent the work of Day, the Catholic Workers, and of course Jesus Christ.
As the COVID-19 disease spreads throughout the country, let us share in roundtable discussions, prayer, and listening in order to help focus on eviction prevention strategies. Households that have children, people who have aged out of foster care, and individuals who exit institutions like jails should be protected. They too are children of God. Similar to Day, people should turn their feelings of love into action and rearrange their priorities to help even the most rejected from society. Regarding Day’s practices of love during challenging times, there is little taking, and more of giving and receiving, especially for those in need.
Day, Dorothy. 1958. The Diaries of Dorothy Day, 1958. Miami Gardens, St. Thomas University. Unpublished archival material.
“Population At-Risk: Homelessness and the COVID-10 Crisis.” 2020. National Alliance to End Homelessness: Homelessness Research
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2 thoughts on “The 1958 Eviction of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers of Chrystie Street: Strategies for Eviction Prevention During COVID-19”
The diaries of Dorothy Day at St. Thomas University are incomplete copies of the original diaries in her papers at Marquette University. The latter are digitized, and scans are available upon request.
Thanks for your comment! The 1958 diaries Jane was working with are of course not the complete diaries at Marquette. However, she’s made some very interesting findings with this set and has recently completed her dissertation on Day. Her work makes some fascinating connections to practical theology. If interested, I’d happily connect you with Jane so that you two can talk further about Day.