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Lent provides opportunity for Catholics to focus attention on homeless

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —Almsgiving is a Lenten tradition and Washington resident Ron Van Bellen says his volunteer work feeding the homeless honors his Catholic faith as he prepares for Easter.

The real estate agent and parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown was one of several volunteers dishing up dinner for homeless men and women lined up March 8 for the weekly St. Maria’s meals program sponsored by Catholic Charities each Wednesday evening.

Van Bellen took time to greet each man and woman who went through the food line before they made their way along the downtown Washington sidewalk to eat their dinner.

“Every time I volunteer I reflect on how my day went and how it related to my relationship with God,” he told Catholic News Service. “It does relate to Lent. We have to sacrifice and serve our brothers and sisters.”

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria's meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria’s meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Van Bellen’s example of helping the homeless during Lent is a Catholic value that Washington’s Catholic Charities president and CEO, Msgr. John Enzler, would like to see spread across the U.S.

It’s clear in the Scriptures that fasting and penance goes beyond not eating meat on Fridays and giving something up during Lent, Msgr. Enzler told CNS. “It’s about making someone else’s life better with your service and your commitment.”

The homeless are among the world’s most vulnerable people and providing service to them during Lent is an ideal way for Catholics to live out their faith in a way that will make a real difference, he said.

Concerted efforts by religious and governmental organizations to address the U.S. homeless situation appear to be making a difference.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 3 percent drop in the national homeless rate from 2015 to 2016 and a 12 percent drop in the last five years.

HUD reported the 2016 national homeless population to be nearly 550,000.

However, the homeless rate rose from 2015 to 2016 in the District of Columbia and a few states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Washington.

With more than a half million people still considered homeless, it’s an issue that all U.S. cities confront and there are varying solutions being employed to raise money necessary to address it in a consequential way, Msgr. Enzler said.

In its effort to fund anti-homelessness programs, Los Angeles County placed a proposal called Measure H on its ballot during its March 7 election.

If passed, Measure H would raise the sales tax a quarter cent. Ballots were still being counted as of March 16 to determine the outcome of the measure.

“There doesn’t seem to be a secret sauce, if you will, about how to completely eradicate homelessness,” Msgr. Enzler said. “But, it seems to me that we just don’t have enough case workers and social workers.”

He believes more people need to serve as navigators, mentors or coaches for individual homeless men and women.

“We don’t have enough people who can really step in and say, ‘I’m going to help this one individual,’” Msgr. Enzler said, “and say ‘it’s my job to help just that one person get a job and get a place to stay and stay with them. Mentor them through that process.’”

He has been encouraging volunteers in his Catholic Charities’ programs to make the homeless their focal point during Lent.

Pope Francis has long urged governments and Christians to recognize the dignity of the homeless and help ease their suffering.

Homelessness became more complicated in the nation’s capital this Lenten season, since the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library shut down March 4 for a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.

Many D.C. homeless men and women used that library branch as a day resource center, a place to get out of the elements during the daytime hours, to use the computer lab to look for work and to use the public restrooms, Msgr. Enzler said.

That closure inspired him to explore a partnership between the District of Columbia and other charitable groups to fund an official day resource center for the homeless, complete with a meal program, laundry and shower facilities, as well as job counselors, case managers and social workers.

It’s an idea that is still percolating with no commitments yet realized, Msgr. Enzler said.

It’s also an idea that Able Putu, a 37-year-old homeless Washingtonian who uses a wheelchair, would like to see come to fruition.

Putu said the library closure left him without a place to rest, use the lavatory and made him more vulnerable to being robbed during the daytime hours.

“I know a lot of people think the homeless are scum and aren’t worthy of anyone’s help, and maybe that’s true about some of them,” Putu said, “but it’s not true about most of us.”

Van Bellen said he had been one of those people with a negative opinion of the homeless before he started his volunteer work.

“I found out that those were misperceptions,” he said. “What I’ve discovered is the homeless people I’ve encountered here are sweet and definitely misunderstood. I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t exposed myself to them.”

 

Follow Chaz Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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Annual Catholic Appeal helps the homeless and jobless become self-sufficient

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For The Dialog

Annual Catholic Appeal helps support diocesan ministries for homeless young mothers and for the jobless

Neither Kelly Adams nor Arden Johnson ever imagined they would become homeless until each of their lives unraveled, about a decade apart.

Adams, 25, had studied at Delaware Tech in Dover, with the hope of becoming a nurse, when her financial aid ran out. She had a job and her own place to live until she lost her job last June and later her residence. She started living with friends and relatives on a rotating basis. Later that summer she learned she was pregnant. Read more »

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‘No justification whatsoever’ for lack of housing, pope says

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Pope Francis told an audience of about 200 clients of Catholic Charities gathered at St. Patrick Church.

“I want to be very clear,” Pope Francis told the crowd, many of whom have low incomes, are immigrants, and receive medical care or clinical and mental health services from Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington. Read more »

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Pope: Plight of homeless is a disgrace in ‘civilized’ cities

September 18th, 2015 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — It’s a disgrace that children live on the streets and young girls and women are forced into prostitution, especially in societies that claim to be highly developed and cultured, Pope Francis said.

A homeless man searches a trash can for bottles and cans to redeem for money in New York City in 2014. Ahead of Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the United States in September, some are bracing themselves for more criticisms from the pope, this time directed specifically at the U.S. culture and economy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A homeless man searches a trash can for bottles and cans to redeem for money in New York City in 2014. Ahead of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the United States in September, some are bracing themselves for more criticisms from the pope, this time directed specifically at the U.S. culture and economy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Every child abandoned or forced to live on the streets, at the mercy of criminal organizations, is a cry rising up to God,” he said.

It is a cry of accusation “against a social system that we have criticized for decades but that we struggle to change,” he said in an audience Sept. 17 to participants of an international symposium on the pastoral care of people on the street. The Sept. 13-17 symposium was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

“It is troubling to see the increasing number of young girls and women forced to earn a living on the street by selling their own bodies, victims of exploitation by criminal organizations and at times by parents and family members,” he said.

Such a situation “is a disgrace in our societies, which boast of being modern and having achieved high levels of culture and development,” he added.

The pope said Christians must be involved in helping innocent people forced onto the streets by safeguarding their dignity and bringing “the goodness and the tenderness of God” to them.

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Papal official invites homeless people to tour of Sistine Chapel and dinner

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The papal almoner, an archbishop who distributes charitable aid from Pope Francis, planned a special afternoon for about 150 homeless people: a walk through the Vatican Gardens, a visit to the Vatican Museums, private time in the Sistine Chapel and dinner in the museums’ cafeteria. Read more »

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