In Alexandria, Virginia, a local church has been working to humanize the homeless.
The Good Shepherd Catholic Church kicked off its 7th Annual Homeless for a Night Campout on Saturday night, with tarps and tents lined up on the lawn.
The event is part of the parish’s efforts to raise awareness of homelessness and the obstacles many face when they lack stable housing.
About 55 members of the congregation participated, many of them youth, building cardboard shelters and sleeping outside the church. Many were faced with cold temperatures and the challenge of staying dry when it rained.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on any given night in 2018, roughly 553,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States. In Virginia, that number was 5,975.
In addition to camping outside in cardboard boxes, participants were given a presentation on what the local Christ House ministry Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington offers in Alexandria. Among services offered: transitional housing, counseling and job mentoring, a food pantry, and emergency financial assistance.
They also provide a clothing ministry and thrift store, and an evening meal that has served the local homeless population every night since 1974.
The Rev. Tom Ferguson said the experience was about more than just the physical, but also experiencing “some of the emotional suffering of loneliness and isolation when you’re homeless — you are looking out for your own personal survival.”
His goal is remind everyone to acknowledge the presence of the homeless and not turn away.
“They’re individuals too,” he said.
Good Shepherd will also collect socks for the local hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope United Methodist Church, along with fresh oranges and apples to be distributed through Catholic Charities’ St. Lucy Project.
To learn more about the work Good Shepherd Catholic Church is implementing and how you can get involved, visit their website.