She was sitting under the porch of the parish office, and asked if she could sleep there overnight. She was in her thirties, seemed to be in very poor health and said if we didn’t let her stay there she would sell her body to get a room for the night.

Our parish is actually in a poor part of town. Across the street are old hotels and the stories of what goes on there are real bad. We’re right on the interstate. People travel in and stop here to feed their addictions.

How are we to help the poor? In our country it is so complicated. Each individual has hugely complex problems. They have health problems, relationship problems, addiction problems, mental health problems, family problems. Where does an ordinary parish begin? So we tie in with Catholic charities and the other groups who offer professional help, but even then it is a drop in the ocean.

In a simpler society the help would also be simpler. Do we offer a homeless man a job raking leaves to earn his lunch? Then we come up against health and safety issues, insurance liabilities, infringement on his government entitlements. Do we open up a house for homeless people? In come the health and safety people. In come the government aid agencies with their regulations. In come the hangers on, the drug addicts, the drunks and the prostitutes–all looking for a free handout with no intention of life change.

Do we just keep on handing out money to pay bills, food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless or does that simply fuel the dependency culture?

We’re trying  to do our best. We have a weekly food pantry that distributes on Saturday mornings, but the poor need more than food, and I feel helpless. I am, after all, a parish priest–not the head of a soup kitchen or a homeless hostel or a gospel mission. We work with the other caring agencies, but there is simply too much to do and too few resources.