For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. (Psalm 27:5) Shelter is one of the necessities along with food that psychologists have identified as one of the most basic and profound needs that a human being requires. Without it, we die or at the very least are so consumed that we can think of little else. This knowledge makes the words of the ancient psalm about seeking shelter in the house of God and God's protection that much more poignant. When people of faith satisfy a significant need such as shelter, we incarnate the meaning of the psalm as well.
According to experts, more than half a million Americans do not have a place to call home each night, and half of those do not have the most basic need of shelter. One of the measurements of homelessness is called a Point in Time Count. Each year on a given day, volunteers go out in each county in most states to survey, interview and count the number of people who do not have a home. On January 28, 2009 there were 12,035 homeless men, women and children counted across the state of New Jersey according to the official U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Because of the recession, information is now being collected on a quarterly basis and to no one's surprise there is an increase in homelessness - particularly for families and in the suburbs, areas where foreclosures have caused many to seek shelter for the very first time. Yet here and now even these new problems have been met with new and creative solutions. Houses are saved, homes and sometimes neighborhoods are created and people are transformed.
"They accepted me with open arms. They believed in me more than I believed in myself. Someone believing in me saved my life. The miracle began and a new woman started to emerge."
Many of the organizations in our diocese that help those without shelter credit a strong faith-based foundation for the holistic way they help. Providing the support and services people need to address the issues they face may not seem radical, but when coupled with the belief in the inherent dignity of every human being - no matter what - it becomes the radical hospitality message of the Gospel.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me ...