Diocesan News

Treating Lincoln’s homeless with dignity, respect

Story by Reagan Scott

LINCOLN (SNR) – According to data collected by the People’s City Mission, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people are homeless in Lincoln every night.

While Catholic Social Services (CSS) and other non-profit organizations provide help and support for many of these individuals, there are also ways that anyone can help.

Bryan Dahlberg, the director of operations at CSS, and Curt Krueger, CSS’s director of social services, have both had experience interacting with, and supporting the homeless in downtown Lincoln, although Krueger noted that only about five percent are the ones often seen on the streets.

“We encounter the homeless on a routine basis, and it’s easy for them to become invisible, or for people to avert their eyes,” Father Douglas Dietrich, the pastor at St. Mary Parish in Lincoln said.

Due to its downtown location, St. Mary’s often sees homeless individuals in the area, and Father Dietrich makes sure that the parish does what it can to help.

“We will always give someone food if they come in hungry, and we will let them come inside to use the restroom if they need it, or go downstairs to warm up in the winter,” Father Dietrich said.

The church also has a fund that they use to provide people with one-time assistance, if they need help with a rental deposit or a utility payment.

Because of CSS’s proximity to downtown and its prominent location on O Street, they can serve many homeless in the area. Six days a week, they provide sandwiches to an average of 40 individuals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Catholic Social Services also provides weatherproof sleeping bags to the homeless so that they can stay warm at night and protected from the elements. Now that winter is approaching, there will be fewer homeless individuals downtown, but CSS will be handing out gloves, hats and blankets to those who need them.

“I would estimate that 10 to 12 people come in a week, and we give them water and warm clothing,” Krueger said.

In the future, the organization is also planning on expanding its ministry, to help the homeless in an even more significant capacity.

For now, CSS will continue to minister to the homeless by providing them with food and clothing, and by ministering to them in a more personal capacity, which anyone can do.

When walking through downtown, one can often encounter the homeless, many of whom may hold signs asking for money. Despite this, Krueger, Dahlberg, and Father Dietrich all advised against giving cash.

“Often, cash serves as a Band-Aid that doesn’t do anything for their problems,” Father Dietrich said.

Besides Catholic Social Services, organizations like Matt Talbot Kitchen, People’s City Mission and The Bay also provide food, shelter and help for the homeless in the Lincoln community.

All are organizations that people can donate to, to ensure that their money is in the hands of people who will use it to help others in the best possible way.

Even then, sometimes the best way that someone can minister to the homeless is to see Christ in them and to treat them with dignity and respect.

“You can always offer them acknowledgment and be willing to have that encounter, however brief,” Father Dietrich said.

Dahlberg agreed, noting that making an effort to have a personal interaction with someone, can help one to reach a better understanding of that person’s situation.

He said, “Every homeless person is unique, and you don’t know why they’re there, but those small interactions do bring dignity to an individual, and that takes courage.” 

Krueger said that often, workers and volunteers from CSS will go on walks to visit with the homeless.

“When we walk, we’ll sit down and talk to the gentleman or lady for 15 minutes and give them the dignity of treating them like a person,” he said. “By being Christ to them, we don’t have to share any more faith than loving and not judging them.”

From these examples, anyone can learn to make a difference just by taking the time to treat the homeless who they encounter with respect.

“God will judge us on how we treat the needy in our culture,” Dahlberg said. “Christ Himself tells us this in Matthew 25:31-46.”

He added, “I don’t know of any saint in the Catholic Church who doesn’t have some relationship or interaction with the poor. In interacting with the less fortunate, we can mature as Christians.”

It is essential to treat the homeless with respect and compassion, keeping in mind that everyone has a different story or reason for their plight.

Father Dietrich said, “We are called to respond with compassion and understanding and to remember that they are loved by God.”

Sharing love, interaction as well as material goods

Story by Reagan Scott

LINCOLN (SNR) – When walking through downtown Lincoln, it is not uncommon to encounter panhandlers: those who appeal for money or other donations.

In Lincoln, the act of panhandling is legal so long as the panhandler does not do anything to intimidate or harass anyone. Not everyone who panhandles is homeless, and it can be almost impossible to tell whether or not the person panhandling is really in need of money, or if they may use the money for other reasons, such as to purchase drugs or alcohol. 

In fact, according to a statement given to the Daily Nebraskan in 2014 by Sgt. Dave Dibelka of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department, providing cash to a homeless person may not be what’s best for them.

For those who still wish to help the poor face-to-face, Dibekla and other leaders of non-profit organizations that help the homeless proposed different solutions, including: 
- Donating to organizations that serve the homeless
- Buying someone a meal at a restaurant, or giving them food
- Providing a gift card to a local restaurant
- Creating a small “care package” to hand out, with toiletries, granola bars or warm clothes

Bryan Dahlberg, director of operations at Catholic Social Services said that if someone feels comfortable giving cash to those who ask but are unsure if the recipient will use it for the right reasons, the giver needs to have faith.

While he stressed that charitable organizations will certainly use donations to give the poor appropriate help, “sometimes you have to trust that the person is being honest with you.

God will know if (panhandlers) use the money for the right reasons.”

He added that even the act of acknowledging a homeless person on the street can make a huge difference in someone’s day. 

“Their needs are shelter, food, and human interaction,” Dahlberg said.

“St. Vincent de Paul said, ‘Knowing our wealth in the richness of God’s mercy, we no longer jealously guard the treasure of love. It may be poured out liberally in the hidden, ordinary moment.’” 

Even though most of the homeless are harmless, Dahlberg noted that people should always be aware of their surroundings, and alert to their own safety.

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