Friday, February 28, 2014

Staying at an Emergency Homeless Shelter Last Night

Last night we opened an emergency shelter for the homeless at St. Mary's Church in Painesville, Ohio.* At St. Mary's, there are some amazing people dedicated to living out the Sermon on the Mount and the Works of Mercy--the central focus of my Christianity.

Was it necessary to open the shelter? Think of this--this morning the temperature in Painesville dropped to -3 (that does not even consider wind chill). When I got back home to Chardon this morning my car thermometer read -13. These temperatures could easily cause people to freeze to death.

So we took in 13 people last night, 10 men and three women. They ranged in age from perhaps 35 to maybe mid 50's--it's hard to say, because homelessness takes a toll on the body and one's appearance. The folks who stayed with us were polite, respectful, and very helpful. This morning they worked together to clean up the gym where we all slept, and had it spic-and-span in a half hour. Everything was cleaned up perfectly and ready for the regular gym activities

I talked to many of the guests last night and I am struck by one thing in particular--they are all very much like me. They are average, intelligent people. I can't quite figure out the reason for the homelessness. One fellow, an immigrant from the former Soviet bloc, speaks about 5 languages fluently--Croation, Slovenian, Russian, German, and English. He is very bright. Some days he walks over 2 hours to work (he has no car and Lake County has such a poor system of public transportation). So we don't totally understand the homelessness and hunger we encounter, but we try our best to address these problems (especially in this brutally, dangerously cold winter).

There are wonderful people who are homeless; and there are wonderful helpers at St. Mary's--Brian, Cheryl, Joe, Shiela, Linda, Rose, Kathy P., Kathy F., Chuck, Bea, Ken, Pam, Jan, Christa, Ed--and others who don't come immediately to mind. This church is a beacon for the whole Diocese of Cleveland--and even for the Catholic Church in America. And by the way, many of the helpers, like Cheryl R. and Kathy F., are not even Catholic. I think Pope Francis would be pleased that our church and our friends have taken on this mission.

*[I wrote, ". . . we opened an emergency shelter." Well, the shelter has been open for about 14 days of this hard winter. I'm guessing the force behind opening the shelter was Kathy Philipps, founder of Karpos Ministry, or maybe it was a joint decision with other people involved, not sure. Whoever made the decision got enthusiastic support from many people in the parish and in the community. I have been able to spend 2 nights there.]

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