In 2013, Pope Francis suggested that when homeless people die of cold on the streets, it isn't considered newsworthy. In contrast, a 10-point drop on the stock markets is considered a tragedy.
He's on target with his remarks, aimed not at the news media but society in general. We often throw up our hands in frustration because housing homeless people is such a difficult task. Or we just write it off, blaming the homeless person for his or her fate.
"In Plain Sight," a photography art exhibit puts a face on homelessness and shows us that these people are our neighbors in need. The project, which Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service will launch later this month at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre, raises awareness of homelessness in the tri-county area of St. Charles, Warren and Lincoln Counties.
It takes many resources to house an individual or family. There's the cost and difficulty of finding apartments. Case management is needed most of the time to address the underlying causes of homelessness and assisting with employment. There's also the cost of furnishing and supplying a household.
Improved access to mental health care and treatment for addictions is a big part of both preventing homelessness and helping those who are living on the streets.
Housing First programs — providing housing to chronically homeless people first then addressing the underlying causes — have proven to be effective, as shown in Utah. It's the basis for current efforts at St. Patrick Center, a Catholic Charities agency in St. Louis. Also, rapid rehousing efforts work with people who have recently lost their homes to get them in new ones and keep them out of shelters.
The Administrative Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states that homeless people and those without adequate housing frequently turn to the Church for help.
"We see their suffering. We feel their pain," the bishops stated. "Across this nation, the Church is reaching out in an unprecedented way to provide shelter to tens of thousands of men, women, and children. We help millions of families avoid eviction and obtain other needed assistance. Dioceses, Catholic Charities and parishes have built and continue to serve in thousands of affordable housing units. Through the Campaign for Human Development, we have assisted a wide variety of local self-help groups working to improve housing for the poor and powerless. We are deeply involved in housing."
But, as the bishops added, these efforts cannot and should not substitute for effective and just public policies to deal with the crisis of homelessness and the urgent need for decent housing in our communities and country.
Advocating for affordable housing, rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing and vouchers are essential in ending the homeless epidemic. For example, Catholic groups supported an effort last year when U.S. Reps. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-St. Elizabeth) teamed up to pass a new public housing law that gets rid of duplicate regulations and allows tenants to stay in subsidized housing for a year after their income increases. The latter provision allows people to save money as they transition out of public housing. A new effort by DePaul USA is funding St. Lazare House, a permanent, supportive housing program for youth in St. Louis.
Why should we care? The broader housing crisis undermines the life and dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers who lack a decent place to live. "There is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing," Pope Francis said.
We need to see homeless people and anyone in a housing crisis as our neighbors. Become advocates. Support the many Catholic programs that address housing and homelessness. Ask ourselves, as Pope Francis encouraged on his trip to the United States in 2015, "Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless?" Ask, and then act.
>> How to help
• Depaul USA, currently seeking funding for supportive apartments for homeless young people ages 18-24, call Suzanne Kenyon at (314) 349-1651 or visit www.stlouisreview.com/bzv.
• "In Plain Sight," register at www.inplainsight.live; or contact Karen Grant at [email protected] or (636) 441-1302, ext. 263.
• St. Patrick Center, call (314) 802-0700 or visit www.stpatrickcenter.org/donate.
"The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head. We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don't we have housing? These are questions which many of you may ask, and do ask, every day. Like St. Joseph, you may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live? And those of us who do have a home, a roof over our heads, would also do well to ask: Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless? Joseph's questions are timely even today."
Pope Francis, Sept. 24, 2015, speaking to clients of Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.