Thursday, December 25, 2014

Homelessness: Through the Eyes of Faith

Ask one of the Confirmation students what they did on the night of December 12th and prepare to be surprised by the
answer you will receive. Instead of holiday shopping or 
celebrating, 24 of our parish teens participated in a homelessness
awareness event that lasted overnight - from 7:00 on a Friday 
night to 7:00 the next morning.
   Throughout the evening students participated in 
activities that introduced them to terms, statistics
and general information about homelessness. One student 
commented that he was surprised to learn that 12% of home
less individuals in our state are employed – they just don’t 
make enough money to afford a home. Mrs. Elizabeth 
Neubauer, a guest speaker who came from the McAuley House 
(a local day-shelter and meal site) explained. She said that 
 the cost of housing in Rhode Island has become very 
 expensive and that wages have not increased at the same 
rate. She shared the startling statistic that a worker making minimum wage would have to work 102 hours per week for 
52 weeks a year in order to afford just a 2 bedroom apartment in 
Rhode Island. She also spoke about the people who come to 
the McAuley House each day, the services offered to them, 
the welcoming and respectful environment they experience, 
and the delicious and healthy meals they are served.
   Later in the evening the teens watched an award winning documentary, The Human Experience.One student later
recalled the sadness of a homeless woman in the video 
who described that she had once seen people respond with 
care and concern to stray dogs living on the street, but 
they wouldn’t extend the same compassion to human beings
on the street.
   After a warm bowl of homemade soup, bread and 
a drink of water, the teens prepared to go out into the
cold night. Just before heading out they participated in a 
brief prayer service, during which each student received 
a battery operated votive candle – their “light” to carry 
into the darkness – and the name of a homeless man 
or woman who would also be sleeping on the streets that 
night, provided by Mrs. Neubauer. “These men and women 
need angels,” she said, “and tonight you can be their angels by praying for them.”
   All 24 students endured the cold air and hard ground 
until at least 1:30 AM, but temperatures dropped and those
without heavy blankets and coats were encouraged to
go inside for safety’s sake. One student commented
that she couldn’t keep her face warm, and others didn’t find
their boxes to be as warm and cozy as they had presumed they’d be. At 3:00 AM there were still thirteen students sleeping
outside. The temperature with the wind chill factored in was 
25 degrees,and the breeze began picking up. That’s when the 
decision was made to bring everyone inside to sleep in the 
cafeteria for the remainder of the night.
   The next morning, over bagels and hot cider, more than 
half of the students said they would be interested in
participating in this type of event again – but some suggested 
it take place earlier in the fall, or in the spring when it wouldn’t
be quite as cold. Many students commented that experiencing homelessness was better than just learning about it, and that
they realized how important it is to have faith to get through 
the difficult times in life. One student said that faith means
always having hope, and another said that it means
realizing that we are never alone because Jesus is always 
watching over us and the church always reaches out to help.