I could not let Father Freund’s article of December 30, 2017 regarding homelessness pass without adding my perspective. I agree with Father Freund about how many of us have likely stopped to drop some change in the hand of a homeless person on the street. I have done so myself and then started to wonder why that person, and not me, is in such a time of their life that leads them to living on the street or in shelters rather than having a place of their own to call home. I think the term engagement is appropriate here as it really means treating this person with the same human dignity we are all born with. Perhaps that homeless person standing in our path has been placed there by God as a reminder, or even a test of our Christian beliefs. If we could only take a few minutes to stop and engage in conversation with this homeless person and give them the opportunity to speak with us, what kind of story would we hear? What kind of opportunity might this engagement provide for us to experience what Jesus Christ must have had whenever he engaged with someone that most considered to be an outcast, unworthy of our attention? I like what I call the three E’s-Engage-Encourage-Enable.
This simple act of engagement may well give the homeless person some encouragement to speak freely, to believe someone else cares about them and perhaps enable them to voice their challenges, needs and goals. I can remember a speaker at one our past Vincentian Family gatherings explaining that everyone has ambitions, but they may be far different than ours. A homeless person may have the simple ambition of finding a safe and friendly place to sleep tonight, a little food, a warm blanket, maybe even a pair of shoes. Perhaps as Father Freund states, after such engagement we can then talk with or on behalf of the homeless and do so from a much more personal basic understanding. The result of this engagement is what we can learn from it. What can a homeless person ever be able to teach us. Perhaps nothing more than the fact they are our equal in God’s eyes. Father Freund mentions what Sr. Mary Ann Daly said and I believe it comes originally from Saint Vincent de Paul who once said that is we who are evangelized through our personal contact with the poor and homeless. I know what exactly what I shall do the next time I encounter a homeless person.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.