by Jen Morin-Williamson
This article was originally posted in This Good Work, our community's social justice newsletter.
We drive by. We walk past. We are uncomfortable and try not to make eye contact. But we see “them.” We are not even sure what to call “them.” We want to show that we acknowledge their dignity and that some names may not reflect that. The name may seem demeaning, or it may not be accurate at all. But still we try. We call them “the poor,” “people experiencing homelessness,” “people with mental illness or addiction.” In some places, the term “street people” may seem more appropriate. We are not trying to assess their situation; rather, we want to have some way to indicate how we have interacted with them – on the street. Many are holding up signs or asking for money. As Catholic Christians, we feel compelled to respond. Scripture is full of exhortations to care for the poor (Proverbs 19:17, Hebrews 13:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-1, Luke 6:38). However, we are skeptical. We do not want to enable addictions. So what can we do?
The Sisters at Salem Heights packed plastic grocery bags with bottles of water and a healthy and a tasty snack, along with a printed “street card” and a couple of prayers. The street card is a resource provided by Montgomery County that gives a plethora of information about where folks can get assistance with food, shelter, mental health aid, domestic violence support, job assistance and much more. These bags were given out to Sisters and employees who wanted them. Many will keep a couple of street bags in their car and then when they pass a street person, they can hand them a bag. If folks feel unsafe doing this, small cards were distributed with phone numbers to call to report seeing someone who may need assistance in Montgomery County.