Posts tagged: homeless

High Unemployment Continues Tragically

By , March 25, 2014 5:20 am

The other day, the New York Times put out a story that looked ever so positive and optimistic. The headlines read “Employment Close to a New High” and the paper pointed out that 116 million Americans are employed in the private industry. That is good news but the leaders of this country are not paying enough attention to the fact that long-term unemployment, meaning being unemployed for more than six months, is tragically high and virtually nothing is being done about it.

It is wonderful that so many of us have jobs but millions of our fellow citizens continue to struggle in vain. Full employment should be a mainstay of public policy but it is hardly discussed in the halls of Congress. This is made all the more tragic by the fact that there is so much work that needs to be done. Our highways have been poorly maintained and hardly expanded at all. Thousands of bridges in this country are in disrepair and the state and national governments continue to fail to fill positions that are sorely needed, especially in our schools.

I would love to see the bishops of the United States take up the issue of full employment and constantly remind the general population that 7% or 8% of joblessness should not be seen as a cold statistic but a reflection of the fact that hundreds of thousands of us are suffering. The whole nation needs to be concerned and be willing to do what is necessary in order to move the whole country forward, not just those who are lucky enough to have jobs.

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Winter’s Last Blast

By , March 4, 2014 5:17 am

Last night Old Man Winter made one last attack on Central Texas and the temperature got into the low 30’s. For most of us, it was a little more than an inconvenience but this late cold spell got me to thinking about the never-ending, awesomely painful reality of the homeless in our midst. What do they do when it freezes?

Happily, there are some wonderfully generous people scattered across the country who try to step in and help with shelter, at least in freezing weather. In Central Austin, there are seven places where homeless people can go in very cold weather. Several of them are churches and I am very proud of the fact that one of them is St. Ignatius Martyr Church in South Central Austin.

The policy governing these emergency homeless shelters is that they are set up when the temperature threaten to go to 32 degrees, or just 35 if it is raining. God bless the volunteers who make this generous service possible. But just think about it? If it is only down to 38, you are on your own. If you were to visit one of these centers on a freezing night, you would see that some of these people lack adequate clothing, much less a pallet or a bed.

I am thankful to God that our new Pope Francis is trying to awaken this fabulously wealthy world, and especially an extraordinarily wealthy nation, to greater sensitivity of the problems of the poor. In one of his earlier speeches, he asked us, “How can it be that it is not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Let’s thank these seven groups that provide this emergency service on very cold days, but there is need for many more of them and open much more than just when it is freezing.

I know that it is not without effort on the part of the host facility. Restrooms must remain open, supervision provided and security maintained but when I see those who are actually providing this care to the weakest and most desperate among us, I see Jesus of Nazareth walking among us.

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Neighbors in Need

By , February 8, 2014 5:52 am

February 9th, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I frequently refer to the three Scripture readings that the Church presents to us each Sunday as forming a mosaic or a collage, which should tie together and unfold before us a very special message that we ought to study, meditate upon and practice in the week that is before us. Today’s readings are a perfect example of this and the message is that Almighty God expects us to do good things and to be especially sensitive to our neighbors who are in need.

Sometimes we followers of Jesus think that the essence of a good life is avoiding sin. That is important, but God expects much more of us than that. Listen to the message presented in the first reading on this Sunday. Read it in the context that Isaiah is preaching to the people in a terrible time of oppression and poverty. Even with this circumstance, Isaiah challenges God’s people when he proclaims:

Thus says the Lord
Share your bread with the hungry
Shelter the oppressed and homeless
Clothe the naked when you see them
Do not turn your back on your own

Wow! Isn’t it true that sometime we do not see people who are hungry, homeless and naked? Modern American cities are designed to get you through the slums on fast freeways and out to the comfortable world of suburbia. However, the Church never stops calling us to be concerned about those in need, and this wonderful new Pope Francis is making that the main thrust of his pontificate. Just look at these words that appear earlier in his exhortation to the whole world about the joy of proclaiming the Gospel.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shall not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

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Poor Haiti

By , January 20, 2014 5:20 am

It has been four years since an agonizingly, destructive earthquake hit the small French speaking, black population struggling to survive on the tiny island nation of Haiti. In a matter of minutes, a million one hundred thousand people, one half of the population, was made homeless. Church and governmental buildings were destroyed, schools collapsed, work places disappeared and the poorest country in the western Hemisphere was prostrate.

Not to worry! The wealthy nations saw the plight of their poor neighbors and rushed to promise aid and sustenance. Promise they did…some $18 billion! While some help came it has begun to dry up. Sadly, sadly, Haiti is beginning to recede into the background of those who made the promises.

There have been some accomplishments. The number of those living in camps has fallen to 170,000. Half of the primary school children are back in school but the mechanics necessary to develop and expand the economy are simply not present, and workers report that the garment factories routinely violate Haitian minimum wage laws and pay most workers too little on which to live.

Surely the wealthy nations can do better. The country is so small, having less than the population of Houston, Texas, that a serious effort on the part of the prosperous nations could, if the will was there, put Haiti back on its feet, make it a viable country and enable it to truly be a member of the self-reliant nations of the planet. In my opinion, the real issue here is Western Hemisphere solidarity. Surely, Canada can do better for its Southern neighbor. Surely Argentina could provide measurable help. And shouldn’t the colossus to the north, the United States of America, be leading the way?

Let’s not forget Haiti in the midst of its agony.

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St. Austin’s… The Church on the Street!

By , November 8, 2013 4:25 am

St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Austin’s Parish are the two key downtown Catholic parishes in Austin. They endeavor to serve their diverse, complex communities effectively and really do a great job. Their parishioners are drawn from some of the most affluent and sophisticated people of the metropolitan area, while at the same time, they must reach people living on the streets and for whom every day is an extremely difficult struggle.
I was very impressed and delighted when I opened the Austin American Statesman the other day and saw that St. Austin’s had opened a water fountain on the street in front of the parish. Father Charles Kullmann, the pastor, pointed out the reason. “The street youth were finding it harder and harder to find water and there were no public fountains in the area and fewer businesses were willing to supply water.” The city wouldn’t provide the sustenance. The faithful would. May God bless the faithful.

It was the wonderful parishioners of St. Austin’s who 13 years ago recognized a really pressing problem on the streets. Homeless women with children! I was still in office when a half a dozen younger parishioners came to me with a vision of opening some type of hostel program facing this agonizing problem. When talking to people about this I always like to stress the words and make sure that they catch what it was that I said. HOMELESS WOMEN WITH CHILDREN! The young St. Austinites had a dream of purchasing an apartment house, and helping these women to get their feet on the ground and be able to provide for their children and themselves. I cautioned these generous visionaries about the complexities of their dream. I mentioned the risks, the liability, the ongoing costs, etc., etc. Happily, they ignored my counsel and one month later purchased a 12-unit apartment house for $650,000. The Daughters of Charity and the Seton Fund made major contributions getting them off to a good start. The Diocese itself made a modest contribution of $50,000. They were underway!

St. Louise House is much more than just a roof overhead. This ministry provides counseling, job training and other aids in helping the mother and her children get on their feet. When they enter their new home it is completely furnished and when she leaves, usually in less than a year, she takes everything with her because she arrived with nothing but would be moving into an empty apartment. After she leaves, the wonderful St. Louise House volunteers step in and refurnish the empty apartment preparing for the next heroic mother with her child or children.

St. Austin’s is also one of the downtown churches that works together to provide warmth and sustenance on freezing nights to homeless men who have a desperate need for shelter. May God bless them for that.

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A Miracle On Wheels

By , October 23, 2013 5:46 am

About 30 or so years ago, there was a very popular song that I really liked. It had a catchy tune but more importantly I think it encompassed a theological truth. The title of the song was, “A Hundred Thousand Miracles Are Happening Every Day.” I can’t guarantee that those numbers are correct but certainly miracles are happening every day and they are all around us. If you can see them through the eyes of faith, they are truly beautiful and exciting.

Would you like to see a miracle? It is very simple. Take a good size load of faith and mix in courage. Stir it with vision and lean hard work up against it. You may very well see a miracle unfold right before your eyes.

I received an e-mail the other day from Alan Graham. It informed me, as well as all other recipients, that Mobile Loaves and Fishes just completed 15 years of their awesomely beautiful ministry and in round figures has served 3.5 million meals. Did you hear that figure – 3.5 million times a hungry and needy person was given help in sustaining their bodies. All of the ingredients that I mentioned above were present in triplicate in Alan Graham and all of his magnificent co-workers.

Alan states very simply that “Fifteen years ago, a small group of friends packed a minivan full of sack lunches and set out to meet their homeless neighbors.” Every day one group of volunteers begins to prepare sandwiches and other types of food for distribution in the afternoon or early evening. Later, another crew comes by and packs their extraordinarily efficient and well-designed truck. The drivers know the routes. They know the little hidden pockets of poverty and destitution and as the truck drives up the recipients come forward with great optimism. However, it is not just food. I was very touched by the fact that men would cry out very frequently – “Do you have any socks? Do you have any socks? I really need a new pair of socks.”

There is a very human story behind each one of these people who get a sandwich or a pair of socks or a warm and encouraging pat on the back, a word of encouragement here or understanding there. We will never learn all of those stories but we know that life has been tough for them, mistakes have been made and are now being lived out in a very difficult manner.

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Labor Priests Reappearing

By , October 2, 2012 4:51 am

The story of working people struggling to improve their lives in an economic system that has frequently been opposed to their improvement is in many ways a sad story. However, it is also a story that is filled with vision, hope, courage, a willingness to face danger and suffer oppression.

That story begins in about 1804 up in New England when a group of leather workers had the temerity to discuss among themselves whether they could ask the owners for a slight increase in their pay. THEY WERE LOCKED UP FOR THAT CRIME! Thanks be to God, we have come a long way from that situation, but there are still tremendous obstacles for working people to improve their lot in a way that would enable them to get their share of the economic pie, a pie that is for the most part actually physically produced by them.

With 10% unemployment and union membership down to a small fraction of what it was 30 years ago, things give the appearance of being quite peaceful. However, there is a lot of anger, frustration and disappointment in the lives of people who are struggling to put food on the table. They hear about the infamous 1% while they lose their homes. They see their jobs disappear and if they can get another one, it is at a much lower level of pay. They see much that they have achieved between 1935 and 1980 being swept away and that includes health insurance, retirement, vacation, etc., etc.

Things were tough in the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s but you know what was a great source of encouragement for blue-collar working people? Time after time in this or that economic struggle, they would see the Roman Catholic priests standing with them in their struggles. They also knew that behind that priest was their bishop. The Church was with them. It made a tremendous difference. It gave the people the courage to struggle on and struggle on they did.

It is a different world. There is a whole new set of problems, extraordinarily difficult obstacles, not the least of which is the mindset of the American public that has come to see the union movement as something to be disdained. In the middle of all that, I was thrilled to see in the newspaper a few weeks ago that a group of 35 priests met in Chicago to review the situation for the difficult conditions that are besetting our workers and to see if they could reinvigorate a movement that was so successful 50 years ago.

This is really encouraging to me personally. I had the honor of serving for several years as the assistant to Monsignor George Higgins who was the informal national chaplain of the union movement. Pray for these priests who are struggling to reinvigorate this movement that they can count on God’s help, St. Joseph the Worker and Monsignor George Higgins.

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Unemployment and Leadership!

By , August 5, 2011 4:00 am

Not a day goes by when one newspaper article or another does not refer to the fact that 9.2% of the workforce of the United States does not have a job. At times, it is rounded off with a nice easy figure of 15 million. If we are ever to solve this problem, we need to be conscious of the fact that these two figures are not just simply yet another “economic indicator.”

We should try and visualize what goes on in the mind of the person who is responsible for maintaining a family but has been unable to secure a real job for a considerable period of time. Upon waking up, one of the first thoughts to come to such a person’s mind is “I don’t have a job.” They have tried everything that they can to stretch their limited resources. Unemployment benefits at least allays the threat of starvation but it does little or nothing in terms of human pride and dignity. Employment is the mainstay of the economic organization of every family. When it is removed due to no fault of the person so unemployed it is devastating.

In the mid 1930’s, the percentage of unemployment was much higher than it is today but the country got itself together and attacked the issue aggressively. Today, just as in the mid-1930’s, we need our national leaders to pool their brains, experience, intelligence, vision and courage together and cooperate in leading us out of the situation that is keeping millions of Americans agonizing insecurity today and possibly real hunger in the future. That is what we need but that is not what we are getting from the national government.

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Sister Mary Rose to the Rescue!

By , June 30, 2011 5:38 am

Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to talk about some of the extraordinary women that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with over the last half century. Although there have been hundreds, I want to especially stress a few who have almost singlehandedly developed extraordinary ministries in order to lighten the burdens of the poor, the ill and the vulnerable. I have already made reference to Jennifer Long and Patti McCabe. Today, I want to talk about Sister Mary Rose McGeady.

Sister Mary Rose is simply extraordinary. A Daughter of Charity who successfully led Catholic Charities in the Brooklyn Diocese from 1973 to 1990, she was called/challenged to come in and attempt to save Covenant House, an excellent national program with facilities in 21 cities aimed at providing food, shelter, counseling and new beginnings to teenagers who had taken to the street. Covenant House had been a great success but its founder, Father Bruce Ritter, was accused of impropriety in some of his actions and chose to resign. Covenant House income dropped dramatically and Sister Mary Rose stepped in faced with a $38 million debt.

This remarkable woman didn’t know how to use the word impossible.

Today, Covenant House is financially sound and even more prosperous than before. When Sister Mary Rose arrived, the agency was in 12 cities. Today, that number has increased to 21 with 15 facilities in the United States, two in Canada and one each in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Thank you and may God bless you, Sister Mary Rose. You are a wonderful example that the great work of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise continue to be made real and concrete in this battered world.

May God bless the Daughters of Charity.

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Friends of the Poor…May God Bless Them Always

By , December 28, 2010 4:36 am

As we move into January, designated by the National Catholic Campaign for Human Development as National Poverty Awareness Month, we have been touching on people who are making a difference in the lives of the poor and the vulnerable. A person and a ministry that I want to mention today is maybe one of the smallest but most symbolic and meaningful.  I am referring to Austin’s Mary House Catholic Worker.  This is just a private residence owned by an extraordinary minister to the homeless.  Her name is Lynn Goodman-Strauss, a convert from Judaism and a dedicated apostle of Dorothy Day where the poor, the sick, and the homeless are always welcomed.   The “guests” come in unexpectedly, arriving from the street and unable to deal with a multitude of chronic illnesses, emotional problems and hunger.  No one is turned away.

Do you want to see the Church working at its best?  Go by the Catholic Worker House of Hospitability and see if you can help.  The address is 711-B King Edward Place in South Central Austin, (512) 447-0963,

The Catholic Worker House will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with Mass at
St. Ignatius Martyr Church at 1:00 p.m. on January 15
th.  I’ll be there.  I hope that you can too!

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