Many of us still have stereotypes of homeless people. Those include older men suffering from alcoholism or maybe undocumented people who abandoned their homes to find work here. The reality is that homelessness has no racial, age or gender preferences, even in northeastern Wisconsin. According to the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition, 1,217 students in Brown County schools were identified as being homeless during the 2011-2012 school year. All it takes is one bad break for a family to end up seeking temporary shelter.
In Brown County alone, there is a waiting list for assistance. According to the homeless and housing coalition, 224 adults and 124 children sought shelter in one of the county’s six shelters, 10 transitional living programs or six crisis shelter programs on Sept. 26, 2012. “Currently these programs have extensive waiting lists,” the coalition stated in a Nov. 13 press release. They also report that there are more than 70 families with children on the waiting list at Freedom House.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded of our duty to care for the least among us: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt: 25:35-40). Throughout sacred Scripture we are reminded many times of our need to perform works of mercy.
In the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, we are also reminded that our first step in assisting the poor and homeless is to “acknowledge the sacred dignity and image of God found in each person.”
So what can we do to see the face of Christ in others and comfort them the way Christ commanded? Here are four things to remember.
Show respect to the homeless. Anyone who has ever volunteered at a homeless shelter or who has had conversation with someone who is homeless knows that one of the struggles they face is loss of dignity. It is not easy to ask for help and nobody enjoys being looked down upon. It’s important to remember that every person reflects the image of God. One advocate offers this advice: “As you look into their eyes, talk to them with genuine interest, and recognize their value as an individual. You will give them a sense of dignity that they rarely experience.”
Volunteer your time. There are many opportunities around the Green Bay Diocese to offer a few hours of service at a homeless shelter. In addition, many parishes participate in preparing meals for homeless shelters. If you’re not able to offer time at a homeless shelter, sign up at a parish to prepare a meal that is delivered to a shelter. For a special touch, include a card or a note with the meal, offering the recipients your warm wishes for better days ahead.
Make a donation. At this time of year, homeless shelters and food pantries are in dire need of assistance. They need money for food and supplies. Shelters also need donations of personal hygiene items, clothes, bedding and books. The Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition can provide information for local shelters. Contact them at (920) 496-1922 or visit their website, www.bchhcwi.org.
Keep them in prayer. People struggling with homelessness have lost more than a home. They’ve lost self esteem and they are in need of prayers. We are reminded that the Lord hears the cry of the poor. Their cries are ours, so we must cry to the Lord, through prayer and ask that their suffering be relieved.