Sheltering the homeless

The last of the Corporal Works of Mercy which we will consider is that of sheltering the homeless. The Catholic Church has always been a leader in caring for the homeless, through the work of the Church as an institution and through the works of the individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

When Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C. last fall among the places he went was a homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities. One of the guests, Derrick Brooks, told NBC News, that although he did not meet the Holy Father, his visit meant that “you know that you are not alone.”

As Christians, the ways in which we carry out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, doing so in a prayerful and loving manner, can be an opportunity for us to continue to manifest the Incarnation — that God the Son became flesh in this world so that we might have the opportunity of encountering Him, and once encountering Him, then responding in love to His love for us.

When we give shelter to the  homeless, we are sheltering Christ, Who had no place to lay His head (Lk 9:58, Mt 8:20). Of course, the homeless of today are different than Jesus Himself, but that is true when we are doing any of the acts of mercy. Nonetheless, Jesus said that He will judge us on how we treated these people as if they were He Himself.

Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Fall River has a variety of programs to help shelter the homeless — from emergency shelters to permanent apartment homes. The funds that you donate to the Catholic Charities Appeal help to provide this service. There are many other charities in our area which also help the homeless, but as the folks who work in this field would tell us, there are never enough beds for the people in need.

The bishops of the United States have written on their website, “The Catholic bishops believe decent, safe, and affordable housing is a human right. Catholic teaching supports the right to private property, but recognizes that communities and the government have an obligation to ensure the housing needs of all are met, especially poor and vulnerable people and their families.”

This past spring, in a letter to Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Sister Donna Markham wrote, “In 2014 Catholic Charities agencies provided housing services to over 500,000 people, including permanent housing for over 33,000 and emergency shelter to over 10,000 people every night. Despite these efforts, over 70 Catholic Charities agencies across the country continue to have waiting lists for housing. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development only 25 percent of households that qualify for housing assistance actually receive it. In response to such widespread unmet need, HUD programs need more resources, not less.”

The archbishop and the head of Catholic Charities USA added, “The Catholic Church, inclusive of all its ministries, is one of the largest private providers of housing services for the poor and vulnerable in the country. We serve as many as we can, yet still fall short of serving all our brothers and sisters in need. The reality is we cannot do it alone, and in many cases government at every level is an important partner in our work. As you know, the effectiveness of these housing programs has been hampered in recent budget and deficit agreements. While Congress still faces serious challenges in balancing needs and resources, and allocating burdens and sacrifices, these programs that help to satisfy the basic human right to shelter should receive special attention.”

So, as individual Catholics, we can carry out this Corporal Work of Mercy in a variety of ways: (1) We can shelter people we know. Friends and relatives who have fallen on hard times. Many people already do this, lending a bed or a couch to someone they know. Of course, sometimes due to addiction problems, we cannot do this, since we may be just enabling a situation. Prudence is needed — sometimes we need to talk this over with an objective friend or person from Church who can help us see what is the best thing to do. (2) We can support financially or by volunteering our time to help the various programs in our area which help the homeless or which help prevent homelessness (such as Catholic Social Services, the St. Vincent de Paul Societies of our parishes, and the many shelters and agencies).  (3) We can advocate on the local, state and national level for programs which respond to this human need.

Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, but He also constantly reminds us that we need to see Him in the poor and that we need to recognize our own Spiritual poverty. He has given us so many riches — we need to share them, so that they do not become an anchor, tying us to this earth when we die, but instead can be like a balloon helping us to rise up to Him.


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