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Bishops urge Washington state’s 1 million Catholics to advocate for the homeless

A woman is pictured in a file photo giving a man a cookie at a homeless encampment in Seattle. In a statement Jan. 18, 2024, Washington's Catholic bishops urged the state's 1 million Catholics to advocate for the homeless by asking legislators for more resources to help those who are unhoused and serve them with dignity. (OSV News photo/David Ryder, Reuters)

By Northwest Catholic
SEATTLE (OSV News) — The bishops of Washington state are urging the state’s 1 million Catholics to join the Washington State Catholic Conference in asking legislators for more resources to help the homeless and serve them with dignity.

“In a nation and state of such great wealth, no person should spend their golden years in a shelter or on a city street, no family should ever worry about where they will spend the night, no one should ever lose the roof over their head because of a temporary economic crisis, and no low-income individual should have to accept a dangerous housing environment,” the bishops said in a Jan. 18 statement.

The statement, “Our Call to Serve Vulnerable Populations in Our Communities,” is signed by Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, Yakima Bishop Joseph J. Tyson, Spokane Bishop Thomas A. Daly and Seattle Auxiliary Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Frank R. Schuster.

According to data from the 2022 Point in Time count, more than 25,000 people in the state are either experiencing homelessness or on the brink of homelessness, the bishops said in the statement. But efforts to help those in need are “sometimes muted by efforts to criminalize homelessness, keep certain types of housing out of our communities, or assume any housing is sufficient regardless of the physical, mental, or emotional needs of the person in poverty and their fellow residents.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires each state to make an official count at least every two years of all individuals staying in temporary housing programs, which is the “sheltered count,” and places not meant for human habitation, or the “unsheltered” count.

Outreach staff, social service providers and volunteers take a census of each person experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness on a single night — the same “point in time.” In Washington state, the 2024 count will take place Jan. 25, with the results expected to be released in the spring.

“It is incumbent to remember that care for the poor is one of the recurring themes throughout both the Old and New Testaments,” the bishops noted in their statement. “As such, care for the poor is a consistent focus of Catholic teaching and action. … Care for the poor is not optional for the Christian.”

The statement lists several areas of needs and asks Catholics to advocate for them — including continuing investment by the state in “adequate and appropriate care for individuals with acute needs who are also experiencing homelessness.”

The bishops ask Catholics to support a more effective coordinated entry system to move homeless people into housing; state laws that reduce barriers to entry in permanent supportive housing while maintaining residents’ safety; and measures to address the drug epidemic that “leaves addiction untreated and needed housing units unlivable due to residue from unchecked drug use.”

The statement also highlights the Catholic Church’s work for the poor in Washington state through its three Catholic charities organizations and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The bishops encourage Catholics to learn more about that work and to serve the vulnerable through parish ministries and volunteer work.

“Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are individuals of equal value and dignity to any other Washingtonian,” the bishops said. “Let us raise our voices to remind political leaders and each other of that essential truth and fulfill our call to be an instrument of God for their liberation.”

On Dec. 15, HUD released the 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which estimated that approximately 653,100 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2023 in the United States. This was a 12% increase, or about 70,650 more people, from 2022.

Northwest Catholic is the publication of the Seattle Archdiocese.

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