Homeless

VIDEO: Our Neighbors in the Pews

In her piece “Compassion in the Stacks” (Sojourners, December 2014), Brittany Shoot brings readers into the San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, where the homeless are invited to rest, search for employment and housing, and receive daily assistance through social services.

Likewise, St. Boniface Catholic church in San Francisco met the same need by opening their doors. From 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, the homeless are welcomed to sleep in the warm and safe pews, even while daily mass is being held.

Read “Compassion in the Stacks” and watch the video below to hear the stories of our San Francisco neighbors in the pews. 

 

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Left Behind

CHRIS PASKI HAS a binder containing computer screen shots of every job he’s applied for in the last year and a half.

“I keep track of everything—I’m an engineer,” he says.

Paski blitzed the commutable radius around his Exton, Pa., home with résumés. He extended his search to Washington, D.C. If he found work there, he planned to sleep in a travel trailer during the week and return home on weekends. Despite impressive experience as an aerospace systems engineer and sending out 270 résumés, he’s scored just one interview. He’s still looking, and he says his faith is intact.

“I know the Lord will take care of me, but he seems to be taking his time,” Paski says, laughing.

But Mike Heaney of West Chester, Pa., doubts that God has a plan for his job search. He remembers a previous bout of unemployment when he lived in North Carolina that changed him.

It was a dark time, he recalls. Problems in his marriage escalated because of unemployment. That led to divorce. Money was tight and medical benefits a luxury. When he needed some major dental work, he drove from North Carolina to Mexico, where it was done for 75 percent less. “They call it dentistry tourism,” he says.

He attended job support groups at a church where he repeatedly heard that God had a plan for anyone who was unemployed. But after seeing the devastation that unemployment caused to the people there, he disagrees with that—a belief he says he’s reconciled with his Catholicism.

Going through a spiritual crisis isn’t uncommon for the jobless. It’s triggered by a job market where the unemployed are in a Hunger Games-style fight for survival: Find a new job in six months or a time bomb goes off. They’ll be labeled then as “long-term unemployed”—out of work for 27 weeks or more, as defined by the U.S. Labor Department.

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Compassion in the Stacks

ON A RECENT Friday afternoon, Joe Bank makes his way quietly through the stacks in the San Francisco Public Library’s main branch. Books aren’t on the 33-year-old’s mind. He’s on the lookout for people in need—people who might need the same social services he once did, when he was homeless and living in a city park.

Bank isn’t just a concerned fellow citizen—though he certainly is that. He’s also on the job, as part of the country’s first in-house, library-specific social work team. Officially, he’s known as a HASA, one of six Health and Safety Associates employed by the library in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Health. The public library HASAs are all formerly homeless, thereby possessing an innate ability to notice the telltale signs of unhoused people in need of a helping hand. Bank’s boss is Leah Esguerra, the country’s first full-time psychiatric social worker employed in a public library.

Esguerra’s small outreach team is tasked with more than answering questions or offering help to clients who need assistance locating or securing social services. HASAs also train library staff on how to respond to patrons in need and how to diffuse and de-escalate tense situations with calm, collected compassion. Furthermore, working as a HASA is a six-to-12-month vocational training program, after which the outreach workers can graduate to other social service jobs. (Bank is currently the only HASA who has stayed on longer than a year.) Esguerra says that because her staffers are all formerly homeless, they find a special purpose in their ability to give back to people in situations similar to their own. “They love the routine and their contribution,” she explains.

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Weekly Wrap 10.24.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football
Title says it all.

2. Where Did Ottawa Shooter Get His Gun? 
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was under criminal prohibition from obtaining firearms because of past convictions. A helpful glimpse into Canada’s system of gun rules.  

3. The Paradox of the Christian CEO
Fr. James Martin expounds on Catholic social teaching to address the difficult question: “The question I would ask Christian CEOs is blunt: What do you want to say to Jesus when you reach the gates of heaven? That you took as much as you could, or as much as the market would bear, because the board okay’d it? Or that you accepted what you thought was just,and understood the needs of your fellow men and women, who may have worked even harder than you?

4. A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea
Mark Barden lost a child in the Sandy Hook massacre. In this moving testimony, he offers a plea that we all do what we can to stop the next school shooting before it happens.

Finding Church Amid An Endless Winter

Courtesy Holy Redeemer Church
Courtesy Holy Redeemer Church

It seems like an eternal winter here in Detroit. The Associated Press, citing a National Weather Service analysis, reports Detroit is experiencing the most extreme winter of any city in the country. I don't know about that, but this winter is "getting real up in here."

At Holy Redeemer, the church just north of Detroit where I serve as pastor, the weather has impacted 9 of 12 Sundays since Dec. 15. It's hindered our ability to gather for worship, dented budgets, and made it hard to maintain community.

You can set your watch by the storms that arrive late on Saturday night and clear by Sunday afternoon.

Yet, time and again the congregation at Holy Redeemer manages to surpass my wildest expectations of faithfulness.

On Scripture: A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1-9a)

Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks
A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1 – 9a). Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

This has been a hard winter — from Minnesota to Alabama. It’s been a very hard winter for Tanya and Red and Jamie and Andre and Adrian and Mercy. They are my neighbors here in New York City. It’s not that the heat was shut off in their apartments because they didn’t pay their bills. They have no apartments. Since last fall, they have made their beds on the steps of Riverside Church, under the scaffolding at Union Seminary and on the benches near Grant’s Tomb.

“Will you be warm enough tonight?” I asked Tanya. “Oh, we’ll be plenty warm,” she said as she showed me their outdoor bedroom: the first layer was carpeting, then stacks of blankets for padding and many more blankets for covers. “Once you’re in here,” said Red, “it’s too hot to keep your jacket on.” I was grateful to hear that because, well, then I wouldn’t feel so terrible going inside my warm apartment.

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

Is Pope Francis Sneaking Out of the Vatican? Maybe Not, but He Wouldn't Be the First

Pope Francis carries his crosier. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Vatican officials say reports that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome are “simply not true,” though that hasn’t stopped the stories from capturing the public imagination.

That’s probably because such tales seem right in line with Francis’ unconventional and pastoral style. What’s more, the faithful always love it when a church leader sneaks under the radar to make a point — witness the fascination with the Mormon bishop who recently disguised himself as a panhandler and then revealed his identity when he climbed into the pulpit.

But breaking out of the “gilded cage” of the Vatican has been a dream of many popes and other churchmen who fear losing touch with their calling as pastors — or simply their connection to ordinary life.

On Scripture: Jesus, Poor Veterans, and the Grass That Suffers (Luke 21: 5-19)

GWImages / Shutterstock
Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans. GWImages / Shutterstock

There is a popular African proverb that says, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. This proverb highlights the reality that too often while nations and powerful entities fight amongst themselves, the common people of the land suffer the most. It is a historical truth that those who make the decision to wage wars (military, legislative, or otherwise) often have the least to lose. Sure, they may lose their prestige, position, or power, but in the end their essential well-being and access to basic necessities are maintained.  Sadly, the same cannot be said of many of those who are the instruments and casualties of war and political conflict.

Veterans: America’s Suffering Grass    

In the United States, a large number of veterans who fought in wars at the command of the political elite have returned home from the battlefield to a life of impoverishment and fickle social services. 

Criminalizing Christ: The Nationwide Targeting of Homeless

Homeless man, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com
Homeless man, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com

There is no longer a war on hunger in this country.

There is no longer a war on poverty.

There is a war on the hungry. 

There is a war on the poor.

It is being waged all over the country with the most recent — and visible — battle coming from Raleigh, N.C., and the now-viral incident with the Rev. Hugh Hollowell’s Love Wins ministries.

It’s ironic, really.

Conservatives love to tell folks that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.

The answer, they say, is charity.

Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.

Rather, they are threatened with arrest. 

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