Coming across a homeless person on the street can turn into a real battle for Christians. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, some feel guilty for not helping and others ignore the situation. A mixture of skepticism and the calling of Jesus to help the poor can cause a real discomfort that leads to the golden question: “Should I give money to the homeless person?”
Mike Sinnett, Director of Shelter Services for Catholic Charities of Denver, thinks there is a better way. He believes Christians can practice true charity in two ways: by acknowledging the person’s presence and dignity and connecting them to a place that will give them the opportunity to get back on their feet.
“One of the things we [Catholic Charities] talk about is that we try to see the face of Jesus in anybody that is in need,” Sinnet said. “The primary goal is to restore their dignity and get them out of the street, get them on a trajectory of recovery that allows them to go back into housing.”
Sinnett said the primary step is to recognize a person facing homelessness as a human being.
“One way you could respond is just to ask them their name and see if they have any immediate needs: Are they hungry or thirsty?” he pointed out. “You can recognize them by saying, ‘Hey, Joe, I’ll pray for you tonight and I hope God gives you the direction you need to get out of the street.’ Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”
Recognizing a homeless person’s dignity leads to step number two: offering real help.
A place of rebirth
Rather than giving people money, Sinnett recommends being a bridge to finding true help for them — help that can assist them with getting back on their feet. This is due to two reasons, he explained.
On the one hand, “We don’t understand where they are in their life journey: Are they on their way to recovery or are they continuing to slide down?” Sinner said. “We should try to offer resources to them because the professionals that take care of those experiencing homelessness understand better the needs and boundaries that are necessary in taking care of someone [struggling].”
On the other hand, there are many resources people don’t take advantage of and, to the surprise of many, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to connect people experiencing homeless with the programs that offer resources for them, Sinnett explained. Helping a person find these services can go way farther than two dollars, for it can help them find a good job, overcome addictions and find a home.
Sinnett believes an important way Catholics can respond to Christ’s call is by understanding what Catholic Charities is about: “We are the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Denver and our mission statements says that we extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need,” he said.
Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”
More concretely, Samaritan House, a ministry operated by Catholic Charities, has helped people earn living wages and affordable housing since 1986.
It walks with people facing homelessness in a journey of around 120 days which helps them find a job, save money, secure sufficient food and clothing, and find an affordable home.
Answering the call
Other than helping people in need find these resources, he also encourages Catholics to help by giving of their time, talents or treasure with Catholic Charities and the Samaritan House, which are always in need of help.
“[You can always help], whether that’s by donating your time teaching a class at Samaritan House, working at the kitchen to serve the meals we serve each day, [or] maybe you’ve been blessed and you’ve got money you can send to Catholic Charities that we will put into services to those experiencing homelessness,” Sinnet stated. “You can also help with your talents — if you’re good at something in particular that could help us at CC, where we wouldn’t have to go out and hire someone to do that.”
The perfect opportunity to do exactly that will take place this Aug. 13-27, as the 32-year old Samaritan House will undergo improvements. During the two-week project to remodel the kitchen, Samaritan House will need assistance feeding the people it is caring for.
Catholic Charities is asking the community for support with time, talents or treasures — whether that be by serving meals, cleaning or donating to buy disposables.
“The beauty that we see is that those that actually walk through the doors of our shelters are not there to scam us. They’ve made a decision to get help,” Sinnett concluded. “They’ve made the decision that they’re done living the life that they were living and that they want to make a change. So, we invite them into a trajectory of recovery …. That person experiencing homelessness can be Jesus in disguise.”
Serve at Samaritan House
If you are interested in helping, visit samhousedenver.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.