It’s not time to think about Thanksgiving Day or Christmas. But neither is it time to forget the less fortunate people who receive donated toys and turkeys during those holidays. The neediest of our brothers and sisters live in no homes at all. Whether in the cold holiday months or in this first week of August, we live among people without a home.
Shelters typically report lower numbers of homeless people seeking a bed for the night because temperatures allow for outside sleeping, at least on a rainless night. Overall, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported last week the number of homeless people is dropping nationwide. From 2005-2007, homelessness was down 15 percent each year for chronically homeless people, down 6 percent for all who spent any time in shelters.
Locally however, HUD reports that in 2007 Philadelphia saw a rise of almost 15 percent in homeless people. On a given night in January last year they amounted to 9,511 throughout the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Last week the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded an agreement between the Congress and the White House in which President Bush signed into law a national Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve affordable rental housing for the poorest Americans.
Amidst good or challenging signs it is clear that more work must be done. There is more to addressing homelessness than providing more homes. At Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Deborah Wagner, newly appointed director of the Office for Housing and Homeless Services, points to the need for human services as much as housing stock. Governmental efforts to keep a roof over the heads of homeless people must also address the wider issues of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, joblessness and personal financial troubles that often lead to homelessness.
Catholic Social Services works on the front lines of delivering these services. Agencies such as St. John’s Hospice, Mercy Hospice and Women of Hope provide lifelines of food, showers, clean clothing, a mailing address, life-skills training and especially a reminder of the presence of God through life’s difficulties.
The big challenge for homeless care comes down to money. Federal support programs provide few of the funds needed for the level of care that Catholic agencies provide, Wagner said, so the remainder is made up by charitable donations. The chief source in the Archdiocese is the annual Catholic Charities Appeal.
Besides sharing one’s gifts of financial blessings, anyone can help in the Church’s mission of care by volunteering at a Catholic facility.
Everyone longs for the comfort of home in this life, and people of faith hope for it eternally in heaven. Moved by compassion, the Catholic Church works every day through its social services and the goodness of its members, along with all people of good will, to bring the dignity of life at home to the poorest of our brothers and sisters.