By Walker Wooding
There are approximately 294 homeless persons in the Southeast Texas counties of Jefferson, Orange and Hardin. But, homelessness is something other than statistics and numbers. When groups minister to the homeless, they don’t see numbers they see the face of Jesus.
“Many of them (the homeless) feel that no one cares,” said Mike Dodson, founder of Matityahu Homeless Ministry, which feeds and provides other necessities to the homeless in Beaumont.
“When I see them, I’m look-ing into the face of God. None of this is my doing or my idea. It’s God’s ministry. I’m just serving him,” he said.
Dodson’s group is just one of several that are tending to the needs of the homeless. Although other groups may have seen a decrease in the number of homeless they are serving since Harvey’s flooding, Dodson is serving more.
Officials with the South East Texas Coalition for the Home-less said their figures show there were 400 homeless prior to Harvey’s flooding. They believe many evacuated and did not return. But, Dodson said Matityahu is now serving more than 100 individuals each day. That’s an increase from the 80 the ministry was serving before the storm.
But whether the numbers have decreased or remained the same, those ministering to the homeless find there are still many unmet needs.
“There seems to be a hole in the services here in the community,” said Chris Robertson, director of disaster response for Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, about the lack of local resources to help the local homeless population.
Catholic Charities, which serves a nine-county area and is a member of the South East Texas Coalition for the Homeless, assists the homeless through its Hospitality Center and its emergency assistance programs.
The Hospitality Center serves meals daily for homeless persons as well as the elderly on fixed incomes, the working poor and the disabled. The center served about 40,000 meals in fiscal year 2017.
Catholic Charities also works with clients who are temporarily homeless because of a disaster or other emergency situations.
“This works great for hardships such as a reduction of pay, work hours, or when they can no longer afford their current home,” Robertson said.
Although Robertson sees a need to further help the homeless, there are organizations such as Matityahu and Some Other Place as well as parishes like St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica that step in to assist and fill some of the gap.
Dodson said he started his organization three years ago after his path crossed with a homeless woman. He encountered her one morning on his way to work as an attorney. Dodson bought her breakfast. The next day the woman was still in the same spot where he found her the day before. This time he knew he couldn’t just help her. That’s when he started a new ministry – Matityahu Homeless Ministry.
“God had his hand on my shoulder,” Dodson said about seeing the woman in the same spot the next day.
The ministry’s name, Matityahu, means gift of God in Hebrew and is based on the scripture Matthew 25: 31-46, which includes the Corporal Works of Mercy.
“Helping those in need is the moral thing to do,” Dodson said. Dodson may be increasing his ministerial work in the years to come. He is in his first year of diaconate formation.
Some Other Place is another organization that meets the needs of the homeless by feeding them lunch every day of the week except Sunday. The organization has a day center for the homeless called Henry’s Place. It received more than 9,300 visits in 2017.
Mary Beth Jones is president of the board of Some Other Place, but in addition to volunteering there Jones has done much at her parish to minister to the homeless. She heads up the Sack Lunch ministry at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica.
The Basilica’s Sack Lunch ministry packs sack lunches each Sunday to provide for the homeless on the one day a week that Some Other Place is closed. The ministry delivers the lunches to the Some Other Place location where the homeless are accustomed to receiving help.
Like Dodson, Jones sees the face of Jesus in each homeless person.
“When they eat lunch, at that moment, they’re not invisible,” Jones said. “We treat them with respect and talk to them. They’re used to people driving by them and not making any eye contact.”
In addition to the Sack Lunch Ministry, which has been going on for 20 years, Jones is also involved with the Basilica’s Backpack Ministry. Through that ministry, parishioners fill backpacks with needy items like socks and personal hygiene products and distribute them to the homeless each Christmas.
Jones also facilitates the Basilica’s Yarn Ministry, which knits or crochets scarves that go into those backpacks.
“We never have a shortage of parishioners who want to help,” Jones said.
Jones believes the need of the homeless go beyond food, shelter and clothing.
“Human contact is what we all need.”