Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Homelessness Hit Close to Home

The other week one of my children discovered the belongings of a homeless person right on the other side of our back fence. Branches from one of our spruce trees along the back provided some shelter and hid the area from view. It was also not very visible from our house, but the kids had gotten up close.

We weren't sure what to do. We wanted to help him but such situations are usually complicated by functional difficulties, and sometimes drug or alcohol abuse.... you know. Our neighbor who is a social worker said that if we didn't ask him to leave, in a loving and supportive way, telling him what his options were, etc., eventually more people would be camping out back there. They would be going to the bathroom back there. (They have to go somewhere!) They would leave more garbage. And we wondered about the safety issues....

I thought of leaving him food or money.....

We thought of calling the police, but never did.

We thought of talking to him and telling him where the shelter is and other places he could go for help, but my husband never actually found him back there. It was clear he was continuing to return but perhaps not till late at night.

I didn't like to leave the kids home alone during that time, not knowing what to expect. There was a stranger practically in our yard.

Then, one day as I was praying at my bedroom window, though the tree branches, I could see a man walking away with a cardboard box and then coming back for something else. Somehow I didn't think it was our homeless man. I think it might have been someone from the church that
actually owns the property. I hope they spoke with him and didn't just throw his things away. Or that it was indeed the man and he decided to move to a shelter-- or, who knows, perhaps his circumstances changed.

I'm not sure what the best thing was to do in that situation. We can continue to pray for him which is no doubt the most important gift we could give him. (That being true for all people and not just the homeless.)

The homeless are clearly among the poorest of our poor. What is our responsibility to them?
I'm wondering, in particular, if we should have done something for him.


Anonymous said...

It's a difficult thing to know how to handle, and invariably, in such cases i usually do the wrong thing and then spend quite some time wondering how they are and where they are and if there wasn't more i could have done.

Thanks so much for your supportive prayers for me and mine, i will be praying at tonight's mass for blessings upon your family and for blessings to find their way also to the 'traveller' who was staying at the back of your yard.

God Bless you all!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'm in a different country to you so things are different and so I won't try and say 'I would of ...' But I have prayed for your homeless man and I really hope he's OK.

Kate said...

The homeless person might have only been keeping his/her valuables there. There was a suitcase in the bushes outside our parish rectory for several months - when we asked the pastor about it he explained that theft is an endemic problem in shelters and so many homeless people look for safe places to hide their personal possessions rather than take them into the shelter with them.

In the current economic climate, I wouldn't be assume that a homeless person is mentally ill either! Perhaps just not as blessed with community and family as we all have been.

Lynz said...

That is a very difficult situation. I've encountered both those who are willingly homeless and those who just don't know what else to do because of life being thrown at them.

One day we were practically assaulted by one man asking only for money. We had food we offered... he didn't want it. (He obviously wanted alcohol from the smell we picked up).

Our Church has an amazing Welfare System. One I really feel would be very helpful if the United States government learned from it. They don't just give money or food... they really teach those in need to fish. Immediate needs are met, but help is provided more for getting cleaned up, finding a job, and even education in the form of basic job training. It brings tears to my eyes learning all that is in place:

Sometimes, prayers are the only thing one can give, if maybe a note with places for assistance.

One famous story here in Utah is of Elizabeth Smart (I'm sure you've heard of it). Her father gave a homeless man a job to earn some money for food and whatnot... he was repaid by the kidnapping of his daughter. Granted, this man had severe mental illness. but one really never knows.

Knowing the Bible is such a comfort. Reading and praying for those in need seems like a great way to decide what to do.

Rosemary Bogdan said...

Deb, thank you. You remain in my prayers too!

Laura, thank you for the prayer. What country are you in?

Kate, truly it can't be assumed they are mentally ill at any time. There is, however, a high incidence of substance abuse among the homeless and that knowledge made the "stranger danger," in terms of our kids, a little scarier. He had two backpacks, sometimes only one, and they were not always left in the same place. Also, after the first few days a large piece of cardboard box was added, looking very much like it was something he was sleeping on. Hope all is well with you!

Rosemary Bogdan said...

Lynz, I hadn't known Elizabeth Smart's abductor had been a homeless man his father had helped! It's good I didn't know that while "our homeless man" was around. It sounds like your church has a very effective way of reaching out to the poor and homeless. Thanks be to God.

Mary said...

Whoa~personally I find this a little scary. While on the one hand I would have wanted to help him out, I have to be honest and say that my "mother bear" instincts would have prevailed. I would have called the police. That's literally too close to my children and, not knowing this person's intentions, mental faculties, history....THEN I would pray for him! There are many places to help provide services for homeless people. We've volunteered at some of them and, though not perfect, they are better equipped to handle this really sad reality. My job is to keep my family safe.

Rosemary Bogdan said...

Mary, I must say my mindset was usually similar to yours. I never left the kids home alone, even though we never saw him there. It was clear he was coming and going. God bless him. I hope he has found shelter.

Esther said...

Rosemary, I know how you feel because I often feel I want to reach out but then something holds me back. My heart goes out to the elderly forced on to the streets or families. I have learned there is a difference between homeless people and street people. I guess the best thing to do is pray and then offer some kind of help to that individual. Of course, be careful!

Catholic Wife and Mother said...

At two different times in my life, I've volunteered in soup kitchens. In both experiences, those in charge said that we should NOT give money, personally intervene, etc. These guys I considered experts (they weren't volunteers like me; this was their job) said that the homeless community knows where to go for food and shelter. Panhandlers aren't really looking for food or shelter, just cash to fund bad and/or dangerous habits.

Suzanne said...

I have a feeling that Catholic Wife and Mother heard right. That is pretty much how I feel. The only way I calm my questioning on this is to believe that and to send some funds on some kind of a regular basis to a charity like Salesian Missions or CRS and pray for the people I see. I suppose one could give them directions to the next shelter and make sure that you give a little to the shelters too. I tell my children that the people should know by now how to find a place to go for rest and food and even a church might be open for sleeping through the night.

Kate said...

I was deeply touched once by the reflection that Christ's command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. - was as much for our sanctification as for the good of those we help. And I wonder whether a check in the mail to some aid organization can change *me* the way looking and talking to a person in need can.

I loved this post at Happy Catholic, it really affected how I think about this:

I understand of course your concern for your kids though - Liam and I had to stop our habit of picking up hitch-hikers after Gui arrived! Gladly, God continues to send us opportunities to see "Christ in His distressing disguise" that don't pose a risk to our children, as I'm sure he does you too!