Why the Church Shelters the Homeless

by | Feb 13, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections

Former Eastern Province Provincial, Fr. Michael Carroll, CM, reflects on Homelessness in a series of reflections.

“Churches answer the call to shelter the homeless “| U.S. Catholic magazine

Let me share some of the good that I have heard folks are doing to serve the homeless. There is a project called the Gubbio Project.

The image is striking

a city’s homeless population asleep on church pews, finding sanctuary in a church’s nave. This program at St. Boniface is part of the Gubbio Project, which provides blankets, hygiene kits, and socks to around 150 people who rest in the church each weekday.
The guests from the San Francisco streets are neither asked questions nor forced to fill out forms. They are able to sleep, warm up in the winter, or join the daily Mass. Most of all, the guests are welcome. On the street, many of the people experiencing homelessness are ignored or even abused, but they are welcome in St. Boniface.

The image is sure to provoke reaction both pro and con.

One group may be impressed that the Church is addressing the needs of homeless persons in a significant way. Another group may be upset the Holy Ground of a church is being used for such secular purposes.

I would like to reflect with you on some myths that may underlie these varied reactions

Myths about homeless people

Here is what I have learned are myths about homelessness from the website Invisible People – Busting 4 Common Myths About Homelessness

Myth: Homelessness Is a Choice

Reality: Homelessness is a result of many factors, the most influential of which are structural faults.

According to the most recent annual survey by the US Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country report the top causes of homelessness among individuals in order as follows:
1. Lack of affordable housing
2. Unemployment
3. Poverty

Myth: Homeless People Don’t Want to Work

Reality: Homeless people do want to work. But there are many intrinsic challenges involved in getting a job and keeping it.

One recent survey of the San Francisco homeless population documented that 17 percent of the city’s homeless people are currently employed.
As previously documented on Invisible People, many homeless people are well educated and seemingly in a prime position for viable employment, but struggle to find opportunities to apply their trade.

Myth: Homeless People Are Drug Users and/or Mentally Ill

Reality: Many homeless people do not suffer from either of these issues. Similar to demographics within the general population, some homeless people suffer from substance abuse and/or mental illness.

This is a big one. A 2018 study revealed that 88.2% of those surveyed believed that mental illness contributed to homelessness, with another 88.4% viewing drug and alcohol abuse as the main contributor. Mental illness and substance abuse rank low on the totem pole of causes of homelessness. They are well below the lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty.

The National Coalition for the Homeless states that “substance abuse can be both the cause and the result of homelessness, and that many people begin abusing alcohol or drugs after losing their homes.”

Myth: It’s Too Expensive to House Homeless People

Reality: Housing homeless people is more cost-effective than supporting someone who is chronically homeless.

Studies show that using a “housing first” philosophy has resulted in reduced numbers of homeless people and is proven to be fiscally responsible. Housing first reduces hospital admissions and police interventions. Health care costs also drop dramatically for people who are provided with supportive housing.
Beyond saving taxpayer dollars, housing previously homeless people empowers them to rise to the challenges of finding stable employment, addressing health issues, and escaping violence from life on the streets. People in supportive housing are in a better position to contribute to society.

The reality is that it’s too expensive not to house homeless people

Scriptural perspectives

Here are some of the things I remember from our scriptures.

The Gospel of Mathew

At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads* of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? MT 12:1

What you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do for me! Matthew 25:31-46,

The Letter of St. James

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14

What is your reaction?

  • Were you surprised by the reality behind some of these myths?
  • If we take the scriptures seriously what should we do?
  • How can I help those who take these the scriptures seriously?