This week, Katie Frandsen takes Leaven readers inside her ministry as a volunteer for Leavenworth Attainable Housing.
Q. What is your title and where do you minister?
A. I’m a volunteer for Leavenworth Attainable Housing, a nonprofit addressing low-income housing assistance. I am on the corporate board and the larger advisory board.
Q. Please describe your ministry and what you do in this role.
A. Attainable Housing is a very new 501(c)(3), addressing the issue of housing in Leavenworth. I had been working as an intake counselor at the Interfaith Community of Hope homeless shelter for several years. But when Sister Vickie Perkins, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, retired from the shelter to really address housing and homelessness, I decided to follow her. So, my role with Attainable Housing is developing.
Right now, I do pretty much anything Sister Vickie asks or needs. Our first project is to rehab a small shotgun house built in 1900. It needs a lot of work. We hope to house an individual or small family. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, if you can’t house a hundred people, house just one.
Q. How would you describe how that fits into the larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. An important mission of the church is to care for the members of Christ’s mystical body. It’s all about the corporal works of mercy, which give us a model of how we should treat one another — always seeing Christ in the other and treating one another as Christ would treat them.
As St. Francis de Sales says, “Live Jesus.” We are all called to do something. And this is the place I find myself. I think God just puts opportunities in front of me and it’s my job to say “yes” when I recognize the offer — this time, to shelter the homeless.
Q. Is this what you set out to do in life?
A. Not homelessness precisely, but helping people has always just come naturally.
Q. If not, what road led you to this place?
A. I learned from my mom that we are responsible to help other people. I remember her work at Catholic Charities in Salt Lake City where I was born and raised. I remember her going to sit with a friend who was being treated with radiation for cancer. I remember her spending time reading to a friend who was blind.
Then, when I was in high school, there was an opportunity to work as a Red Cross volunteer at the VA hospital. I loved this and it eventually led me to a degree and a 40-year career as a nurse. I worked a lot of my career in mental health and acute psychiatry, which has helped enormously as I’ve worked with the homeless at the shelter in Leavenworth.
Also, I recently became an associate of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, a process which reinforced a natural impulse to serve the poor along with the Sisters.
Q. Did you collect some skills from other jobs along the way that have proved surprisingly applicable? If so, explain. Were these skills particularly helpful for the pandemic and your recent work in mental health?
A. Sure, all my assessment skills as a nurse helped me. I also worked for 15 years as an infection control nurse, working with infectious disease physicians. This all helped because I understood what we were doing and why in terms of the pandemic.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your job?
A. Maybe just the constant sense of urgency we feel to get people stably housed.
Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?
A. Our goal is to secure and develop affordable housing for individuals and families in Leavenworth. So, we serve people who are homeless or unstably housed. But who is that really? Maybe a little background will help.
The United States has always measured housing affordability in terms of percentage of income, with 30% the indicator of affordability. Keeping costs below 30% helps ensure that households have enough money to pay for other costs like utilities and food. We recently did a survey of low-income individuals who came to a food kitchen/community meal. We found that 9% were actually homeless and 17% were temporarily staying with friends or relatives.
But most concerning was that nearly 60% of people with housing pay 50% or more on rent and, for the majority, it does not include utilities. So, the cost of maintaining a residence is a huge burden. And those individuals living paycheck to paycheck can be one medical bill or car repair from eviction. The other big hurdle to finding housing is saving enough for first and last month’s rent and utility deposits.
We want to provide safe housing for 30% of income to include utilities. And then, offer wraparound services like financial planning and health care to help them be successful.
Q. What do you wish everybody knew about your ministry?
A. Again, the urgency we feel. People are really looking for safe housing and a supportive community.
Q. Why does the world need more of what you do, especially right now?
A. So many people are struggling and everyone deserves a safe place to live and raise a family. That’s a pro-life issue.
Q. What have you learned about people in this job?
A. So many people are willing to help if given the opportunity. People really are good. For example, we need new windows in the house and a contractor I know agreed to install them at a huge savings for us, just because I was talking to him about the project and he was presented with the opportunity. And he said “yes.”
Q. What have you learned about yourself?
A. I’ve learned that I can change gears and adapt to new challenges, that I really like working on a board with other people passionate about the same issue, and that I don’t mind the many meetings because they really are leading us to our goal.
Q. How has it changed the way you view your identity as a Catholic?
A. I don’t think it has. Doing good is Catholic and biblical. St. James says, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” I think it’s what we are all called to do.
Katie Frandsen has been a member of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lansing since 2011. A widow since 2005, she and her husband raised two children — son David and his wife Dawn, who live in Iowa, and daughter Liz, who lives with her husband Mark and Frandsen’s two grandsons, Aaron and Wyatt, in Lansing.