When considering people who have experienced homelessness, we think immediately of our friend Angela and her two sons. Angela is a hard-worker, with an impressive skillset that landed her a steady job at an assisted living facility in Nashville. Spend only five minutes with Angela, and you will sense a complex warmth about her. She is resilient and tough, kind and loving, all at the same time.
Angela’s descent into homelessness followed a pattern we at Catholic Charities have seen time and again. As a single parent, Angela held her job at the assisted living center for several years. When a close family member passed away, she requested time off from her employer to attend the funeral, which was out of state, and to care for her family in their time of need. When she returned to Nashville, she faced a situation common to those who work low-wage jobs: she had been replaced. After struggling a few months to find work, and with no way to pay the rent, Angela and her two boys were evicted from their apartment and had to enter a short-term family shelter across town.
Angela’s next stop was the Support Circles program at Catholic Charities, which connects homeless families with agency volunteers who provide a network of mutual support and friendship. Support Circles centers around one key assumption: while homelessness certainly means lacking a roof over one’s head, it also means lacking a support system with all its resources. We all depend on a system of support to help us weather crises, provide role models for children, share a meal every now and then, and lift us up when life presents challenges. Support Circles works to rebuild these systems for families who have experienced the crisis of homelessness.
Angela and her boys did not remain in the shelter long. With her resilient, can-do attitude and the help of a case worker, Angela found another apartment and a job in her field in no time. Though we celebrated her family’s move back into permanent housing, we learned quickly that Angela’s struggles were not over. Her new neighborhood is not safe-she regularly hears gun fire and is nervous to let her boys play outside. Work brings its own challenges: insufficient hours, low pay, and lack of schedule flexibility.
Angela needs more than just a home; she also needs ongoing support and care-as we all do. At Catholic Charities, we have learned that sheltering the homeless means more than putting a roof over someone’s head. Sheltering also entails love, support, healing, and mutuality. Holistically, it means providing a home. And a home comes from the community who builds it and gathers in love and friendship to support those who live within its walls.
As people of faith seeking justice, we shelter the homeless by working diligently for affordable housing for all and by building homes fortified with love and support. The grace is that, by doing so, we find ourselves sheltered in return.