To provide shelter to the homeless remains a critical social need and moral imperative today as it has been since the beginning of time. Man’s need to have a dwelling, a true home, not only provides the necessity of shelter from the elements, but provides a place of peaceful rest and nourishment. A home, regardless of its size or ownership status, is an essential element of human dignity, contributing to the societal definitions of belonging, stability and safety. The home is the basic platform for raising a family with dignity.
In his teachings, Jesus challenges us with his command to show mercy by providing the mandate to shelter the homeless. Through many worthy efforts and programs today that aim to provide suitable housing options for the thousands upon thousands of people in need, we can respond and show mercy by assisting in these efforts, through financial support or manpower efforts in building and providing homes for the homeless.
However, this month of May, being dedicated to Mental Health Awareness and with the Diocese of Camden Mercy Works theme being focused on Shelter to the Homeless, there is another take to this Corporal Work of Mercy that I would like to consider: To make a house a true home for the elderly who live alone.
We can answer our call to mercy by transforming an existence in an apartment or a house, into a true home for the homeless elderly who find no social comfort within the dwelling where they reside. With no family, no friends, no social contacts, coupled with the inability to safely and easily venture outside their house, they are often left with the further debilitation of depression resulting from such isolation. Their natural human yearning for companionship and relationship is often stifled by the walls that surround them. Walls that once provided the shelter for their family are now walls of loneliness and isolation.
Our call to mercy is to take time to find out who in our community needs these walls of isolation penetrated by our presence and act on it. Pay them a visit. Many may be our own relatives and friends who are being slowly disregarded due to age, infirmity, or mental illness. Their house is no longer a home, where the relationships of family that they once planted took root and grew over the years. The house structure has now become their solitary confinement, leading to a lifeless lonely existence.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, our attention is turned toward the many individuals in our communities who suffer various forms of mental illness. Recognition, diagnosis and treatment options are highlighted in the medical literature to raise awareness to this epidemic that affects many more people than we could ever imagine. Many are silent victims that remain obscure and go untreated. Older adults are at an increased risk of experiencing depression – one of the most common forms of mental illness seen today. Depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is not a normal part of the aging process. Living in isolation, however, is a risk factor that can contribute to depression.
To do our part and answer the call to show mercy, visit an elderly shut-in. Even if for a brief “Hello” or for an extended visit to share a meal, you will certainly make a difference in that persons’ life. You will bring that house back into a home for them and help free them from the pain of isolation. You will be graced by God’s love as you fulfill your call to carry out this corporal work of mercy in providing a home for the homeless.
If you or someone you love needs care at home and finds themselves struggling in their efforts to remain independent at home, call the VITALity Help-Line at 1-888-26VITALity (1-888-268-4825). We will link you with the necessary services and resources to help. VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services is a charitable healthcare ministry of the Diocese of Camden, serving all people in South Jersey.
Deacon Gerard “Jerry” Jablonowski is executive director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services.