By Chris Herlinger, Catholic News Service     2/21/2020

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Tommy Dunphy, a 37-year-old native of California’s San Gabriel Valley, is no stranger to the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. 

He has known both homelessness and the perils of jail, having spent time in and out of prison for two decades for drug-related charges.

But Dunphy has been doing his best to live a “clean” life, keeping various addiction and mental health challenges at bay and managing his HIV. Taking care of Arianna, his beloved dog of two and a half years, is a cornerstone in his life. So is his low-rent, government-subsidized apartment in the Gateway apartment complex on Skid Row.

Another godsend is his long-standing friendship with Sister Margaret Farrell, a member of the Religious Sisters of Charity, who is spiritual ministry coordinator at Covenant House California in Los Angeles and a frequent visitor to Skid Row.

As many as 60,000 people may be living on the streets at night in Los Angeles. In what is perhaps the most potent and visible symbol of homelessness in the nation’s second-largest city, hundreds of people live in tents on Skid Row — a risky and often dangerous life, exposing them to crime, drugs and prostitution.

The linked problems of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are drawing urgent attention at the moment, though it is nothing new to women religious, like Sister Farrell, who have championed the cause of shelter and housing in their ministries. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sisters are working in such ministries globally.

At the core of that ministry is a moral imperative grounded in the Gospel and the belief that having a home affords human dignity.

“No one should be living in the street, or in a car, or bouncing around from one relative’s couch to another,” Mercy Sister Helen Amos, a longtime housing and homelessness activist in Baltimore, told Global Sisters Report.

Dunphy says the ability to live in a safe, quiet apartment is the key to his success in the past three years.

No more prison, he said. “I’m done doing time.”