Nuns on the Bus hear stories of formerly homeless in Clairton

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As they travel across the country, the Catholic nuns are on a bus. It's when they get off the bus that they find the stories they set out to hear.

At one stop, the nuns met a woman who couldn't afford health care for her autistic son. At another, they met a son whose mother died because her health care was too expensive.

"The stories are endless," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based social justice lobby Network, which organized the bus tour to protest the federal budget proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "It touches the heart. We spend a lot of time shedding a tear or two."

This morning, at Sisters Place, a supportive housing community for single parent families in Clairton, Sister Simone and her traveling nuns heard one more story. This one came from a woman who was living with her daughter in a homeless shelter when she received housing and support from Sisters Place.

The support has helped her and her 13-year-old turn their lives around, said the woman, who asked not to be named.

"If it wasn't for the Sisters Place, I wouldn't be here," she said. "I don't know where I would be."

The goal of the Nuns on the Bus is to encourage Congress to approve a budget that provides "reasonable revenue for responsible programs," such as Sisters Place, Sister Simone said.

The traveling nuns on Wednesday visited the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, in Mt. Lebanon, where they proposed an alternative budget to the one that the women said would cut taxes for the wealthy while hurting the poor and middle class.

Sister Mary Parks, executive director of Sisters Place, said she stands completely behind her fellow nuns.

Her organization receives 43 percent of its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The rest comes from sources such as fund raising and grant writing.

Yet in recent years, HUD funding has gradually decreased, making her staff's work of providing housing and support services to 32 families, or about 100 mostly women and children, increasingly difficult.

"This new budget would be just devastating," Sister Mary said. "I don't know if we can survive it."

It's a situation she's hoping Sisters Place won't have to face. As Sister Simone and her handful of traveling nuns departed for their next stop -- a news conference in Harrisburg to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling on the health care law -- Sister Mary, her staff and her fellow nuns waved goodbye and cheered them on their way.

Geri Edmonds, program coordinator for Sisters Place, sent them off with a message: "Ladies, don't give up."

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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