Homelessness: Catholics Respond
Catholics in two regions exemplify how to answer the call of Christ
Today the number of homeless people in the United States is higher than the number of people who have their own home in America’s 32nd-largest city (Albuquerque, New Mexico, population 560,000). US data says the total number of people without homes nationwide in 2019 was 567,715, up 14,885 from 2018.
The crisis is growing in the nation’s second-largest city. The number of people in the sprawling city of Los Angeles with no place to call their own was 58,936 in 2019—more than any other US city and about the same number of people who have homes in such cities as Dubuque, Iowa; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Pontiac, Michigan. Among states, California’s homeless population increased most dramatically last year, growing by 21,306 people over the previous year or 16.4 percent.
One California pastor is doing something about the crisis at his parish just twenty-two miles from downtown LA. Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, of St. Philip Benizi Parish in Fullerton strives to offer humane treatment and aid to homeless people while respecting the desires of local residents to keep people from living on their streets. Fr. Kriz has become known as a homeless advocate in the region and a resource for other parishes dealing with homelessness.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Lafayette in Louisiana has long held special services for homeless souls as a way to honor the sanctity and dignity of human life.
Both of these inspirational stories illustrate Catholics fulfilling the calls and examples of Jesus Christ and the Church’s corporal works of mercy in a crisis that shows no signs of going away.
In Los Angeles: Serving the Displaced
Fr. Dennis Kriz, the son of Czech immigrants, was born in Chicago. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and went on to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. While at USC thirty years ago, he had what he calls a “wonderful experience” attending Mass at the campus Catholic Center that, at the time, was run by priests of the Servite Order. Homelessness also was a significant problem in Los Angeles three decades ago. While a student, he took a leading role in organizing efforts to feed the local homeless, and he volunteered with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker in efforts to aid people who were displaced. Fr. Kriz joined the Servite community and was ordained a priest in 1999. He studied Spanish in Mexico, and much of his work has centered on serving Hispanic communities. In 2016, he was assigned to his current parish, St. Philip Benizi, where more than half of the parishioners are Spanish-speaking.
Initially he thought his work would focus on Hispanic ministry and immigration. Instead, he says, “The main battleground turned out to be homelessness.” Saint Philip’s is in the Diocese of Orange County, which became independent of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1976. It is the third-poorest parish in the diocese, Fr. Kriz says, adding that homeless people tend to gravitate there from wealthier parts of the diocese.
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.