Those We Fear

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2014

Fear of people who are living on the streets is a very real thing. When I have talked with other churches about the possibility of them allowing homeless people to sleep on the pews of their church, their first response is often fear. There is the fear of what the neighbors and/or parishioners would think and do; fear for the schoolchildren, and of the parents' reaction, if there is a school; and fear of the drug use by some of the homeless folks.

The biggest fear, however, seems to be of the people themselves. I get it. Everyone has seen someone disheveled on the corner yelling loudly at a nonexistent enemy. And at St. Boniface, there has been the occasional mass that has been interrupted by someone having an episode.

But for every one person living on the streets who is shouting, there are 99 more who are not. Or 999 who are not. The Gubbio Project is celebrating being open for 10 years this April (2580 days of providing sacred sleep!). And while we have had some instances of uncertainty and instability with some of our guests that has made us rightfully fearful in the moment, we strive daily to see that those are isolated incidents and to see each person for who they are. The fact is, we have never had a serious incident of violence in the 18,060 hours in which an average of 75 homeless, bone-tired, beautiful, cranky people have shared space together.

Statistics like this should challenge the notions we and society have about our homeless brothers and sisters. People without homes are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. They are harassed, beaten up, assaulted, ignored, and stolen from. One reason I want the churches to take our neighbors living on the street in, is because they need safe places to be. Another is because I want the churches to take the lead in showing that what we should fear most is the damage that clinging to our stereotypes and fear of homeless people does to us, and to those we fear.