Silent Joe and Lando.

There is a program in Portland staffed by Jesuit Volunteers called JOIN: Connecting the Street to a Home. Its mission is to help people transition from homelessness to housing while creating awareness by introducing people with homes to the reality of being homeless. This is where you can meet people like Silent Joe and Lando.

Silent Joe does not like being called homeless; he describes himself as an "outdoor liver." Silent Joe does not talk all that much, he prefers to let his deeds do the talking. He figured out how to salvage valuable objects from other people’s trash. He reports quite often finding shirts in the garbage that are still in their plastic covers, unexpired food still sealed in impermeable packaging, and other items that can be sold for money. Silent Joe has lived outside for over 25 years. He is disappointed in the “throwaway culture” – a society that wastes so much – and so chooses to live simply and act as a sort of gleaner. He is very proud of his “million dollar view” off the “front porch” of where he found a place to lay his head.

Lando is an artist. Standing in the lunch line at Blanchet House, he is eager for pleasant conversation. “Why do you live on the street, Lando?  What would help you out the most?”

Lando does not have to think about his answer, he knows exactly what he thinks and what he wants: “I don’t want to live on the street; this is not a good life. If you want to help me, give me $80,000."

You see, Lando did not plan or desire to be on the street. He merely lost his job and could not pay his rent and found himself out of luck. The phrase but for the grace of God, there go I comes to our mind – this could be you and me.

“I’m not looking for a handout, but a helping hand” Lando says, “Most people ask for a million dollars; I’m just looking for $80,000. I think that’s a lot more reasonable.”

With the money, Lando figures he could find a place to stay and set up his studio again to begin making money for himself. It's just hard to use one’s skills to earn a living when you can’t afford your daily bread.

Silent Joe and Lando are real people, just like you and me. Maybe they are not what you thought homelessness looks like. Not every homeless person is like Silent Joe and Lando, but all are human beings with real needs, even if society or they themselves have forgotten their fundamental dignity.

Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery, not to succumb to the “throwaway culture” that throws away even human beings. Examine what your default impression is, not about homelessness, but about homeless people. Learn about JOIN, Blanchet House, Little Sisters of the Poor, or Catholic Charities of Oregon, and how they have learned to see themselves in the face of the other.

Take the opportunity to learn about Margaret of Cortona, whose feast day is February 22. She came to embrace the homeless and is the patron saint of homeless people.

Cato is director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Fr. Libra is the archdiocese’s pro-life director and pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland.