Homeless: Vulnerable Amid the Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex - HomelessIn light of the recent polar vortex, we are called to think about homeless outreach throughout the country. This past week, many homes lost power, forcing people to take shelter in schools, churches or community centers. For one or two nights, a mass amount of people experienced a sliver of what it is like to live in a shelter. Though this is nothing compared to what the chronically homeless face, it is important to realize homelessness happens everywhere and no one is immune. Any person could become homeless at any moment, whether from job loss, natural disaster or economic stress. In recognizing this, we can realize the solidarity that innately exists between people who are homeless and those that are not, we are all one people susceptible to tough times.

For many Jesuit institutions across the country, their relationships with those who are homeless have developed through projects or ministries named after St. Joseph Benedict Labre.  Labre, the patron saint of the homeless, provides us a context to see the presence of God in our homeless brothers and sisters.  Finding God happens when you look into a person’s eyes, you see their soul, moving you to compassionately love. For Christians, this is the experience of Eucharist.

According to Dan Bradesca, principal at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland their Labre ministry, “is perhaps the most personal encounter our students and adult volunteers can have in terms of finding God in all things. At its core, it is essentially Eucharistic, bringing Christ to every nook and cranny of our tattered world.”

To see a person’s soul is to see their vulnerability, and in return realizing your own. The homeless are some of the most vulnerable in society. During the polar vortex, freezing to death was a tangible fear for the homeless. Their vulnerability to the cold was extreme. For those living on the streets this week, a heavy coat and warm blanket would not suffice. Shelter was absolutely necessary for survival. Many Labre programs added an additional night this week.

Though the polar vortex has passed, we are still in the middle of winter. Hopefully, those who experienced any hardship during this time can understand the vulnerability to the cold the homeless face throughout winter and they can provide not only aid but a compassionate heart. The next time you pass someone sleeping on the street corner you may stop and engage  in communion with them.

Bartels is a senior at John Carroll University, former leader of JCU’s Labre Program and an intern at the Ignatian Solidarity Network.

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