I first volunteered at a soup kitchen in the frigid depths of winter in very late 1981 or very early 1982, in the heart of the Rust Belt in the midst of a terrible recession. I should emphasize right from the onset that I didn’t want to be there: I was next to useless and very intimidated, forced to be there by the tradition of service at my all-boys Catholic high school. Still, the experience made quite an impression on me, and I tell that story to my students so that they will understand that I know what’s like to be afraid of homeless people. When I looked at the people in line I saw a hungry mass clamoring for food—a collective threat—rather than a great number of struggling individuals in need—my brothers and sisters I was called to love—and that was my mistake. It’s a common enough error, however, and if there is one great irony about the fear in American society of the stereotypical homeless person, it’s that very many people who find themselves suddenly homeless are, themselves, terrified of homeless people; they’ve been conditioned to be so, and finding themselves in the midst of other homeless folks can seem like descending into a nightmare. [excerpt]
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Fee, Christopher. "Entertaining Angels: Homelessness and the Hospitality of Faith in Adams County." Collinge Lecture at Xavier Center, St. Francis Catholic Church (June 22, 2016).