Vanessa Ahoua will never forget the first time she met Father Joe Carroll. “It was like I was meeting a celebrity,” she says. Ahoua was experiencing homelessness at the time, back in 2008, and stayed at then-St. Vincent de Paul Village for two years. While coming out of a resource center, she had her first face-to-face encounter with him.
“I told him that I wanted to be like him when I grew up, and he laughed,” she says. “Here’s a man who cared about people, who took all the donations that he got and gave them away.”
Today, Ahoua lives in North Park and credits Father Joe and his organization’s one-stop-shop model for getting her the resources she needed. Ahoua is just one of the numerous San Diegans directly impacted by the work of Father Joe and his team. Last year alone, 13,000 individuals accepted services at the campus, which was renamed Father Joe’s Villages in 2015. And, over the so-called hustler priest’s nearly 40-year career, it’s estimated that his organization helped hundreds of thousands of homeless San Diegans.
“We use the term ‘hustler priest’; that’s true of him,” says Bill Bolstad, chief strategy officer. “He was a real go-getter. He was a deal maker. I have no doubt if he had not been a priest he would’ve been an incredible businessman, because he was always thinking through different angles and different ways to grow the organization and to help people.”
That tenacity fueled Father Joe’s unparalleled efforts to make an impact on homelessness in San Diego. With his death in July 2021, his namesake organization aims to inspire the community to continue his legacy. As a permanent reminder of his mission, a memorial promenade to honor him is in the works.
The Father Joe Carroll Memorial Promenade will be in East Village in front of the Villages’ new housing community, which will feature more than 400 housing units—the largest of its kind in San Diego, according to Bolstad. Residents will also have access to employment assistance and health care. The project is expected to be completed by early 2022. Along the promenade are Father Joe’s footprints, giving visitors a chance to trace his journey to help those experiencing homelessness.
At the end of the path, Bolstad says, “the message is that his footsteps haven’t stopped. He completed his mission, he did his part—now it’s on us in the community to continue the work that he began.”