The fourth corporal work of mercy is to “shelter the homeless.” First, let us try to understand homes before we look at the homeless. Homes are structures made of different types of textures to provide shelter to humans. Some homes are made of synthetic fiber materials, woods, blocks, bricks, stones, concretes, steels, and so on. Some homes are permanently constructed while some are makeshift homes manufactured for temporary uses.
In the US some people build mobile homes they pull with trucks on vacation trips or when they change location. Mobile homes have advantages and disadvantages. Their mobility is a great advantage, but during hurricanes they are the worst hit of all homes and structures. Homes are among the basic human needs. They provide security to people. Security of lives and properties. They provide security from weather effects: rains, scourging hot sun, winter and so on.
At homes, people make their living. It is at homes that people transact their basic human activities like sleeping, preparation of foods/drinks, eating, etc. It is at homes that parents make children and raise them. It is at homes that they provide the informal education of their children. Most of our social engagements begin and end in our homes. Homes are first and foremost where we find affection, and where our sense of belonging is nurtured.
Though some people use the terms: home and house interchangeably, some sociologists distinguish them because the essence of homes is to form communion which may be lacking in houses. The good news is that when Jesus was talking about provision of shelter, He did not talk about providing houses. He talked about homes (Matthew 25: 36). What is more, some sociologists have discovered that those who live in homes are more interdependent on themselves, and form more communion; and as such are more appropriately defined as a community of people:
who have a sense of common purpose(s) and/or interest(s) for which they assume mutual responsibility, who acknowledge their interconnectedness, who respect the individual differences among members, and who commit themselves to the well-being of each other and the integrity and well-being of the group (Wood & Judikis, 2002). In other words, homes do not just provide us with shelter, they also provide opportunities for interaction, interdependence, integration and wellbeing of members. Therefore, the request to provide shelter for the homeless is surely larger than providing roofs above their heads.
But who are the homeless to whom we are called to provide shelter for? The enumeration issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe provide us answer to that question. It classified the homeless into two categories: primary and secondary homelessness. Those who are primarily homeless are those who do not have any sort of roofs above them. They are those who live on the streets. Beggars, refugees, etc form part of this category of people.
On the other hand, those who are secondarily homeless are those who move from one kind of shelter to another. In other words, they do not have regular residences but they have some form of shelter (“Enumeration of Homeless People,” United Nations Economic and Social Council, 2009). To some extent, those who are secondarily homeless are protected from the harsh effects of weather. The homeless are seen everywhere. They may be more in cities, though. But we are called upon to shelter them.