Corporal work of mercy: Sheltering the homeless

Mar 23, 2023
Jack and Liz Rishavy before Jack’s accident (COURTESY).

WINTER HAVEN | Liz Rishavy was shopping for Halloween costumes when she found out about her husband’s injury. While testing the water in the pool of their rental home in Haines City, Jack fell headfirst onto the steps, shattering the bones in his shoulder and elbow. It would take a costly surgery to repair, and in the meantime, he would be unable to use his right arm, making him unable to work.

With three teenage boys at home, Liz suddenly became the sole provider for their family. Although Liz had an interview for a position within her company, with a pay increase to bring their income above the poverty line for the first time, bills still piled up as they waited for surgery clearance.

“It took two-and-a-half months to get cleared for the surgery. We had saved up as much as we could with our combined incomes, but it wasn’t enough to cover all our expenses,” explained Liz, adding that when they couldn’t get a doctor’s note
for the surgery in time, Jack’s employer claimed job abandonment, cutting off their primary income.

The couple became three months behind on rent and were threatened with eviction. They were behind on water and electricity, struggling to buy groceries, and preparing for Jack’s upcoming surgery. Liz felt desperate, but she recalled her prior experience with Catholic Charities of Central Florida.

Years ago, the agency offered assistance when Jack was recovering from a work-related injury. In the hopes that Catholic Charities could help again, Liz called the Winter Haven office and spoke to Martha Murphy, a case manager with Catholic Charities’ Family Stability Program.

“The mission of the Family Stability Program is to help those who are homeless or are in fear of becoming homeless,” Murphy said. “Something has happened that they were not expecting, like the loss of a job, and they can’t pay rent. We help them catch up on rent to stay stable or find housing to regain stability. We can also help with electric and water bills. In some cases, we help with locating jobs and teach budgeting once they have employment. We want to ensure them that way they won’t find themselves in the same situation a few months down the road.”

With Murphy’s help, the family got on a path to stability. After borrowing gas money from her oldest son to drive to Jack’s
surgery, Liz finished the Catholic Charities paperwork in the hospital waiting room. The couple dropped it off in person on the
way home, where Martha met them with two bags of groceries and gift cards for gas.

“Martha is such a warm, caring, generous person. She really exudes the love of Christ a thousand percent. She takes up the call to serve the poor and love our brothers and sisters with every ounce of her being,” Liz said. “I don’t think people understand how profound it is when you go for help and you aren’t judged or condemned for situations. That’s what Martha and the group at Catholic Charities are like.”

Once Jack’s arm had healed, he had job prospects lined up. Liz said the family just needed help to get over a bump in the road, and Catholic Charities was there to offer that help.

“So many things were going right and yet so many things were falling apart at the same time. People who are middle or lower income families don’t understand the resources available through Catholic Charities. Many people think it’s just for people who are homeless,” Liz said. “It’s not a handout; it’s a hand up. It’s help to get you stable again. You need to be able to show that you have a path out of your situation.”

For more than 60 years, Catholic Charities of Central Florida has been daily living out their mission to embrace those in need with hope, transforming their lives through faith, compassion, and service. They embody the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through programs that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and comfort the sorrowful. And while the team at Catholic Charities is responding to the Gospel call to serve, there is no faith requirement for those receiving services.

“Catholic means universal; universal love, universal faith, universal care” Liz said. “That’s what Catholic Charities really is. I’m always referring people there because I know my experience is a drop in the bucket of the things, they do day in and day out with love and care and respect. I will always be grateful for this opportunity. Catholic Charities gave me the opportunity to continue to grow and take care of my family.”

By Elizabeth Wilson, Florida Catholic correspondent, March 24, 2023