A cold night on the streets of Camden City


Photo by Carl Peters

homeless-webA homeless man stands on Federal Street in Camden on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The temperature was expected to drop to 25 degrees that night.

Ironically, the morning that I planned to write this article, Jeremy Rosen, of the Courier Post, began a four part series describing the conditions and the homeless people of Camden. Truly, not enough has been written about this catastrophic situation in the See City of the Diocese of Camden. As Rosen’s articles pointed out, the reality of homelessness is a complicated situation. There are many reasons for people being on the streets and few solutions to both to address that reality and the conditions that lead up to it.

For years I have sat watching this reality unfold in front of my own eyes. Every parish in Camden welcomes the homeless to their property on these cold winter nights. However, we don’t have a place inside. Personally, it breaks my heart and challenges my faith to not be able to respond in a more human and welcoming way. Old jackets and clothes, warm coffee (“with sugar and milk, please”) and perhaps a muffin or two are not enough to make me any less comfortable or guilty. I am not alone in these feelings.

Throughout the course of this past year, a small group of men and woman have come together to figure out how we might respond in a better way. Without money, resources, or buildings we let our compassion guide us to action on behalf of others. We have founded “Joseph’s House,” a subsidiary of the St. Joseph Carpenter Society. It will become a limited liability corporation (LLC) from which we hope to provide more and more services and opportunities for the homeless. As St. Joseph cared for the presence of God in his midst, we hope to do the same.

There are admirable agencies in the city of Camden already doing “compassionate outreach” to the homeless. They have been at it for years and deserve our praise and gratitude. However, it has not been enough. Our efforts will not either. But it is a step in the right direction. We hope to open “The New Visions Café” in partnership with the Lutheran Social Ministries which presently run a daytime drop-in center with the same name. With their blessing and help we will offer from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. a warm place to come and get off the streets for approximately 40 men, women, and children.

The Catholic Churches in the city of Camden have done wonderful work to reach out not only to our parishioners but to all within our neighborhoods in many areas of ministries. We have done little to “house the homeless.” Joseph’s House is a start, a small, slow one but a start nonetheless. We will need your prayers and support to not only begin this ministry but to help it grow into more than just a drop-in center in the future. It is a Gospel calling to all of us to see Our Brother Jesus in all of our brothers and sisters. It is part of the Vision of our Diocese “to care for our sisters and brothers in need.”

This weekend we celebrate the journey of Mary and Joseph where a place to stay was not available to them. They gave birth to Jesus in a manger where Shepherds and Kings came to pay Him homage. He came to remind us that “God is with us.” We must all continue to be reminded how much pain and suffering exists in the lives of our brothers and sisters; our faith must lead us to the poor, homeless, the migrant, the mentally ill and others that society has cast out.

We ask for your help in getting this ministry started. We will ask for volunteers but it will be a difficult task. We ask you for your financial support as well. If you would like to make a donation or volunteer your time you may send your donation to The St. Joseph Carpenter Society, 20 Church street, Camden, NJ 08105 (indicate that it is for Joseph’s House. Or you may call John Klein at 856-964-2776 ext. 6060). This promises to be a cold winter, we know that already. Help us provide assistance to at least some of God’s people.

Msgr. Robert T. McDermott is pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, East Camden.