Voice of the Poor

The Call of Catholic Social Teaching: A Reflection on Homelessness

The Call of Catholic Social Teaching: A Reflection on Homelessness 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Fr. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., Ph. D., Provincial Superior, Congregation of the Mission, Western Province

I was delighted to be asked to submit this reflection on homelessness through the prism of Catholic Social Teaching.  After some initial thinking on the topic, I was overwhelmed by both the immensity of the body of literature called, “Catholic Social Teaching”.  Furthermore, I was personally challenged on the profound reality Catholic Social Teaching calls us to change, to care, to sacrifice, and love our brothers and sisters who live in poverty.

Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in the biblical tradition of “preferential option for the poor”.  According to the commands of God, the care for the poor is the highest priority.  It is a moral imperative for Christians to love and care for the poor because God is the poor and the poor are God (Matthew 25). This great summons of justice is found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and evident in centuries of Catholic Tradition and articulated in the Magisterium Teaching of the Catholic Church. The Christian mandate is to be both charitable and to pursue justice.  It is not enough for Christians to espouse ideals, principles, and credo. An authentic and integrated Christian life must include charity, service, advocacy, and justice.  “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren [sic]” (Cano. 1397).

The depth of love for our sisters and brothers in poverty need to be accompanied by a commitment to advocacy (a commitment to stand with and to work in the best interest of the poor) for systemic change in policies that deny or limit access to needed resources for the poor.  Catholic Social Teaching shows that we must do more than just “help out” – “give some of our time” – “be nice” – and to do for the poor in order to “feel good about ourselves”.  The Christian call is to advocate for real systemic change to directly alleviate and liberate our brothers and sisters from the suffering and shackles of poverty.  The disease of poverty kills the body and spirit in both those directly affected by the rage of poverty and it deeply affects all of society.

Homelessness is just one of the many symptoms of the complex nature of poverty in our society.  From a clinical perspective, one cannot just address the symptom of a problem; one must look at the etiology deeply underlying the symptoms.  It is only when one “drills down” deep beneath the surface of a problem that real healing and systemic change are possible.

Homelessness perpetuates the victimization and traumatization of highly vulnerable people.  The psychiatric community is only beginning to learn how devastating trauma disables and immobilizes individuals.  Trauma can only be treated within a safe and secure place.  The reality of homelessness continues to expose people to the harsh elements of violence, exploitation, prejudice, loneliness, and fear.

Catholic Social Teaching emphatically states that everyone has the inalienable rights of dignity, community, and care.  Without these inalienable rights, people are devoid of what truly constitutes their basic humanity.

The concept of “Home” is more than just a structure or a shelter.  A home is meant to be a place of safety, security, and grounding for our bodies and souls.  It is only in this type of environment that our humanity can really thrive and grow. Furthermore, it is in this “sacred” place of home that humans discover and rediscover the goodness and divine nature of humanity.  Home is to be a “holy” place for healing and the “safe place” where vulnerability and love can be shared.  The sacred externals of home leads us to the holy and sacred places of our hearts and souls.  “Home is where the Heart is” (Song by Elvis Presley).

Catholic Social Teaching illustrates the communal responsibilities we have to care and advocate for the poor in their material needs, humanitarian needs, and spiritual needs.  The Catholic call is to “look beyond” the bread you eat; to “look beyond” the cup you drink” (hymn by Darryl Ducote, 1969), and to look deeper into life and the social challenges facing society.  In looking beyond and looking deeper, we will find Christ in the poor.  The late British author, Graham Greene reminds us that, “most things disappoint till you look deeper”.

The wealth of wisdom in Catholic Social Teaching serves as a guide to address the global epidemic of homelessness with authentic values and principles.  This treasured wisdom provide us with the constant reminder of our duties and responsibilities to respond with the armor of charity and justice for God’s homeless people.  Finally, Catholic Social Teaching inspires hope that we can and we will bring an end to this cruel reality of homelessness in our lifetime.  We are reassure of this hope by the prophet words of Joshua, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Poverty Awareness Month — Homelessness

Poverty Awareness Month — Homelessness 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Sandy Figueroa
St. Boniface Conference in Elmont, NY
African American Task Force Representative — Northeast Region

When we hear the word homelessness, what does our mind’s eye see? People living in the streets in urban cities or sleeping in malls in the suburbs and rural areas. We see people who may have been successful and fell into the downward spiral of addictions. Rarely do we even think that the homeless are employed, but their salary cannot pay the rent for an apartment or even a trailer in a trailer park.

When I take the subway, I carry change to give to those who are begging in the streets. Yet, I know that’s not doing one thing to help our brothers and sisters secure decent housing. And, I know that after a while, many people stop trying and become resigned to living in the streets and are grateful for the handouts of those who have.

My Vincentian eyes tell me that I can and must do something. I can advocate, which I do by sending e-mails to my government representatives. I can join larger organizations and work on homelessness and demand affordable housing. And above all else, I must and can pray.

Yet, what if one of my sons or my mother was homeless, what would I do? Vincent challenges us by stating that if we saw someone in need, would we just stand by with our arms folded and do nothing.

Poverty awareness week/month reminds us as Vincentians, we must pray, advocate, and act for those whose income does not stretch for food and shelter. We must demand and remind our representatives that many of us working may only be one pay check away from homelessness and hunger.

We see the face of Christ of those in most need. Would we stand by and let Christ or our son or our mother live in the streets, the malls, or the subways? By this will all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

Excerpt from: Encyclical Letter – Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendships

The parable then asks us to take a closer look at the passers-by. The nervous indifference that makes them pass to the other side of the road – whether innocently or not, whether the result of disdain or mere distraction – makes the priest and the Levite a sad reflection of the growing gulf between ourselves and the world around us. There are many ways to pass by at a safe distance: we can retreat inwards, ignore others, or be indifferent to their plight. Or simply look elsewhere, as in some countries, or certain sectors of them, where contempt is shown for the poor and their culture, and one looks the other way, as if a development plan imported from without could edge them out. This is how some justify their indifference: the poor, whose pleas for help might touch their hearts, simply do not exist. The poor are beyond the scope of their interest.

Poverty Awareness Month

Poverty Awareness Month 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Bobby Kinkela, Voice of the Poor Representative for the Mideast Region

January is homeless awareness month. Homelessness in Michigan is difficult this time of year in the cold and the snow. There are friends in need who are living out of their cars. The trick here, I’ve heard, is figuring out how much gas money it will take to keep the phone charged and the heater on enough so you can’t see your breath. Yet most cars and vans are not meant for living and the car batteries often fry out. Our Conference helped a friend experiencing homelessness purchase a deep cycle car battery to replace her broken car battery. This allowed her to run her household items without quickly burning out her battery. Yet in the state of Michigan, the department of health and human services considers this woman “housed” because she has a van which is considered “shelter,” and so she is not entitled to additional homeless state money. She instead has to save up for move-in expenses.

There are some neighbors in need that take to outdoor camps in tents, even in the snow and cold. I wondered how it’s possible to live in the elements. One neighbor in need shows me how she keeps warm using a personal heater she made. The heater is a metal coffee cup filled with a mixture of hand sanitizer and alcohol lit with a flame. The flame is kept inside a metal boiling pan, so even if the mixture spills, her tent will not catch on fire.

The ingenuity of people and the desire to survive is a very human trait instilled in us by our Creator. Let us admire the ingenuity of people struggling to survive in a state of homelessness, while at the same time try to improve things so that they will not have to.

Written by: Fr. Wayne Biernat of St. Michael’s Parish in East Longmeadow, MA

When we look into the eyes of the poor, do we see the face of Jesus Christ? Do we feel and understand how truly lucky we are to encounter and experience the heart of Jesus Christ in that holy moment? Every time we embrace the gift and the grace of loving and serving the poor, we are given the blessing of encountering the divine. Being present and attentive to their needs is an invitation from God to truly love.  Love changes and blesses the human heart. Love is what we all yearn for in our humanity. The poor are experiencing an absence of love in a profound and life changing manner. When our basic needs are not provided for, we can feel an emptiness within our human heart that is deafening. We are all blessed with the power and strength to bless that emptiness for one another. How will we answer that knock on the door of the heart from God today?


Poverty Awareness Month: We Are Pilgrims — We Are Not Tourists

Poverty Awareness Month: We Are Pilgrims — We Are Not Tourists 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Pam Matambanadzo, National Board Member and Chair of the Multicultural and Diversity Committee

In his homily on Sunday, Fr. Jim Prehn, S.J. from Loyola University Chicago (a visiting priest at Saint Mary of the Lake/Our Lady of Lourdes Chicago) reminded us that we are all called and that we should look to the blessed Mother on what to do when called. He continued to say that all too often as Christians we tend to take the approach of tourists: viewing things from a safe distance; taking notes before moving onto the next thing.  We tend to seek what is comfortable.

He beckoned us to view our calling as would a pilgrim, whereby we do not know what is to come, but rather we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.  Tourists tend to set agendas on what sites to visit and how long they will be there – everything is predictable. Pilgrimage, on the other hand, beckons us to a journey of spiritual focus that is sometimes uncomfortable. How are we truly to encounter the suffering Christ if we turn away from the challenges that come with speaking for the vulnerable?

As many of you may know, January is Poverty Awareness Month, and this year the Voice of the Poor Committee is inviting all Vincentians to journey with us as we reflect and discern our role in the plight of those experiencing Homelessness, or those simply unhoused in one form or another. Each week we will invite a fellow Vincentian to share with us how their community is tackling the challenges they encounter.

We will also be inviting clergy from different parts of the country to help us as we reflect. What is Catholic Social Teaching?  Is advocating for the vulnerable part and parcel of living out one’s gospel values? The U.S. Catholic Bishops say, “We are called to shape a constituency of conscience, measuring every policy by how it touches the least, the lost, and the left-out among us.”

The Voice of the Poor Committee is working on updating our Position Statement on Homelessness. The current version was approved by the National Council on August 31, 2007.  Please take time to review the statement along with all the others. Consider reaching out to your regional VOP Representative for more information on how to become more informed and active as we strive to go beyond the charity of feeding the poor to also seek justice for them and defend the life and dignity of neighbors living in poverty.

It is our pilgrimage – together we can make a difference.

2022 World Day of the Poor

2022 World Day of the Poor 1080 1080 SVDP USA

“May this 2022 World Day of the Poor be for us a moment of grace. May it enable us to make a personal and communal examination of conscience and to ask ourselves whether the poverty of Jesus Christ is our faithful companion in life.” – Pope Francis

This Sunday, November 13, 2022, the Catholic Church marks the Sixth World Day of the Poor. This year’s theme is “For your sakes Christ became poor.”

World Day of the Poor was established by Pope Francis in 2017 and has been celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The aim of World Day of the Poor is to encourage Catholics to go into the streets and encounter poverty in its different forms. As Vincentians, we are called to help those in need, no matter where they are. The Home Visit, as many know, is the hallmark of the Society’s work. Vincentians go out and meet their neighbors in need wherever they may be. Sometimes that is in a home, but not always. We do not judge or discriminate based on someone’s living situation. During Home Visits, Vincentians strive to make their neighbors in need as comfortable as possible. They bring hope, empathy, and compassion, in addition to financial support, food, clothes, and other forms of support.

Each year, Pope Francis releases a letter in honor of World Day of the Poor. In this year’s message, Pope Francis reminds us that helping those in need has been central to the Catholic faith. He cites St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. In that letter, St. Paul asks the local Christian community to hold a special collection for those that are hungry. This year, Pope Francis unveiled a new sculpture entitled, “Sheltering,” in St. Peter’s Square that highlights the plight of the homeless. The statue was created by Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz, and seeks to promote the Vincentian Family’s “13 Houses Campaign” to provide material and spiritual help to people suffering from homelessness.

Prayer for World Day of the Poor
By: Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director

Lord, give me eyes that see the poor;
Especially the strangers… the invisible.

Give me ears that hear their cries of need;
Of hunger, thirst, or loneliness.

Give me a heart that will love them
In word and in deed, as You have loved me.

Give me hands that are willing to work
To feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless,
To welcome the stranger.


“Sheltering” by Timothy Schmalz


January is Poverty Awareness Month

January is Poverty Awareness Month 940 788 SVDP USA

According to Poverty USA, more than 38 million people in the United States currently live in poverty.

The month of January is dedicated to bringing awareness to this crucial issue that is at the forefront of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s mission. January is Poverty Awareness Month.

Who Lives in Poverty?

Individuals and families that earn less than the Federal Government’s poverty threshold are considered to be living in poverty. There are two main classifications of poverty:

  • Absolute Poverty: When a household income is below the poverty threshold making it impossible for the individual or family to meet their basic needs including food, housing, safe drinking water, education, healthcare, etc. For those living in absolute poverty, their situation remains unchanged no matter the economic state of where they live.
  • Relative Poverty: The condition in which people are deprived of the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the average of standard living in their community. Those that fall in this category have money, but not enough to “keep up with the Joneses.” This type of poverty can change with economic growth in the country. This category, while it may not seem as extreme as absolute poverty, can still be permanent.

Poverty can also be broken into two groups called “Generational Poverty” and “Situational Poverty.”

  • Generational Poverty: A family that has lived in poverty for at least two generations. Those experiencing generational poverty often deal with hopelessness, tend to focus on survival over planning, have different values and patterns than those who have not grown up in poverty.
  • Situational Poverty: A individual or family’s income and support is decreased due to a specific change – job loss, divorce, death, etc. Those coping with situational poverty tend to remain hopeful, considering it a temporary setback.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Poverty in the U.S.

In the years leading up to 2020, poverty had gradually been declining in the United States. In 2019, the poverty rate was at 10.5%, the lowest since 1959. Then, COVID hit.

According to Human Rights Watch, since the start of the pandemic, 74.7 million people have lost work, forcing them to dip into savings, depleting individual reserves.

Census Bureau data shows how households with different incomes are coping with the pandemic and that low-income households are disproportionally struggling for their social and economic needs to be met. Among households with incomes below $35,000, 47% of adults report being behind on housing payments, and 25% say they struggle to put food on the table.

While stimulus checks, and tax credits have offered a little help over the past two years, the problem persists.

SVdP Is Here to Help

Our mission is: “A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”

Vincentians around the world have dedicated themselves to offering our suffering brothers and sisters a hand up in their time of need. Through a combination of spiritual and material aid, we seek to help those suffering from poverty. While we do assist with food and rental assistance – the things you picture those living in poverty to be most desperate for – SVdP’s goal is to help make a “systemic change.”

Systemic Change is a key facet of the Society’s work to end poverty. It goes beyond addressing immediate needs and instead, partners with the poor to identify the root causes of their poverty and remove the barriers that keep people impoverished.

“The money or assistance in-kind that we give to those who are poor will not last long. We must aspire to a more complete and longer lasting benefit: study their abilities … and help them get work to help them out of their difficulties.” – Blessed Rosalie Rendu

To learn more about how SVdP helps those living in poverty, click to visit our website.

Resources for Poverty Awareness Month

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