Connecting the homeless and the Holy Family
A rash of synthetic drug overdoeses among St. Louis' homeless population has prompted the question of how to help those in need, and in particular, addressing the issue of panhandling, as reported in this issue of the St. Louis Review.
As we prepare for the birth of Christ, we're mindful of the plight of the Holy Family. The Scriptures share how Joseph and Mary, who was about to give birth, were without shelter. The Son of God came into this world homeless.
Pope Francis, who addressed clients of Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., on his 2015 visit to the United States, said there is "no justification for homelessness," adding that "God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity."
"We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person," he said. "He wanted everyone to experience His companionship, His help, His love."
We often find ourselves conflicted inside — with the Gospel mission in mind, most of us want to reach out to help others in need, but we want to do so in a way that keeps others safe. The reluctance to give money to pandhandlers is understandable, considering the concern that many who are homeless suffer from behavioral health issues, which often lead to substance abuse.
Certainly, encountering people in need on the street should bring us out of our comfort zone and prompt us to consider the bigger picture of the needs of our homeless brothers and sisters in Christ. Here are a few things to consider this holiday season and throughout the year:
Recognize their dignity as human beings: Remember that for many panhandlers, this is their last resort. They are often ignored, or even worse, yelled at by passersby. We recognize their dignity as human beings by offering a simple hello or a smile, even if we choose not to give at that moment.
Consider alternatives: Instead of handing out cash, have small bags of toiletries and snacks on hand to give away. Also consider giving gift cards to fast food restaurants or bus passes, or having gloves, hats and maybe a small blanket or two stashed away in the car.
Get involved: Remember that giving money or goods to someone on the street isn't going to solve the problem. Take an interest in getting involved in efforts that will help others long term. Consider sharing time, talent and treasure with the organizations dedicated to helping those in need, including Catholic Charities of St. Louis, St. Patrick Center, Peter and Paul Community Services, or Sts. Joachim & Ann Care Service.
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