How Does House-lessness Differ From Home-lessness?

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

Transforming our wandering art gallery eyes. I wondered what “wandering art gallery eyes” might mean; I often find intriguing insights in the French Catholic periodical La Croix. Here I found much more than I expected.

Among many insights, his concept of ”houselessness” intrigued me. How was this different from the way I think of homelessness? Peter Day, an Australian priest, writes..

It is my contention that this approach tends to address “houselessness” (physical needs), rather than homelessness (relational/spiritual/emotional needs).

I knew I needed to explore the distinction between houselessness and homelessness.

Here I present excerpts to see if they resonate with you as well.

Houselessnesss and “relational poverty”

Relational poverty: an entrenched isolation in which there is minimal and, oftentimes, no meaningful human contact.

It is the poverty of the lonely, broken heart. And it cripples and destroys lives.

When people are overwhelmed by relational poverty their capacity to engage, to find work, to get better, to “get up”, and to live with dignity is significantly diminished; sometimes even extinguished.

Is that why we say “there is no place like home” rather than “no place like a house“?

Impersonal Charity

More of his thought…

“Much of our collective approach to welfare and homelessness (governments, community, charities and churches) is underpinned by impersonal charity which tends to focus on relieving material poverty – i.e. through the provision of low-cost housing, welfare benefits, soup kitchens, refuges, second-hand clothing bins, anonymous cash donations, vouchers etc.

“This has its place and, at times, is critical. But it has little, if any, impact on addressing relational poverty. More often than not, our impersonal charity helps people only survive or exist. Lives are not transformed.

“The often complex issues that underlie peoples’ crises are never properly addressed, so nothing really changes. We just re-cycle homelessness.

We are good at knowing about – and writing about – people overwhelmed by poverty; but we are not so good at knowing them, at knowing their name(s).

The majesty and credibility of Catholic social teaching, of synodal life, hinges not just on our willingness to humbly wash the battered and bruised feet of our world, but to enter into relationship with those whose feet we wash – just as our founder did.

Jesus and “social triage”

Jesus, the word made flesh left the comfort of home to let us know we are loved.

Jesus noticed people. Love notices. The Gospels, too, have eyes — that notice and penetrate and transform. This contrasts our usual way of seeing; that is, with art gallery eyes that passively wander from person to person, from exhibit to exhibit, leaving what they see unchanged (see The Impact of God p. 28).

One might say that Christ’s life was a manifestation of social triage: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: ‘Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice.’ And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners” (Mt 9,12-13). In other words, the ones outside our gate, so to speak, are triaged as the highest priority.

To be a Eucharistic and synodal people means leaving the safety of our gated communities; it means going beyond the superficiality of our non-sacrificial bread-crumb-charity that is bereft of communion.

Questioning approaches

  • How conscious am I of the more profound underlying “relational poverty” of so many who never experience being radically loved?
  • Was Jesus primarily concerned with housing the houseless or “seeing” the poverty of not being seen, respected, and loved as a sister or brother?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk