In the cold winter months, our thoughts often turn to the homeless. A local school group recently asked me what they could collect to help the homeless. My response was warm wool socks, waterproof gloves, hats, scarves and coats and boots designed to withstand extremely cold temperatures. Even though I’ve answered this question many times over the years, I always find myself stumbling over the words because I never get used to the fact that I am not giving a list of what things would be nice to have for a day of winter sports, but rather what things are necessary for daily survival. It is often difficult for us to fully comprehend that when someone is homeless and on the street, each day is truly about surviving to the next day. There’s no time for thinking about or planning for life goals because you are too busy figuring out how to stay warm, where to go for a hot meal or where to sleep at night — and then getting yourself there, most likely on foot. At Catholic Charities, we are known for our comprehensive homeless and housing programs that provide affordable apartments and social services to veterans, seniors, families and those facing the challenge of domestic violence or disability. In total, we provide affordable housing to more than 4,000 people per year throughout Cook and Lake counties. Especially with the severe shortage of affordable housing in our high-rent metropolitan area, Catholic Charities is truly grateful to provide stable housing and crucial supportive services for so many people. However, there are thousands of people who remain unhoused and homeless. What you might not know about is the extensive network of emergency services that Catholic Charities provides for the homeless — services fulfilling the most basic of human needs for food, clothing and refuge from the elements; services designed to help people survive. Catholic Charities Mobile Outreach Program, reached when people dial 311, dispatches teams to respond to non-life-threatening requests for assistance throughout the city of Chicago 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This includes bringing people to shelters, providing emergency food, doing well-being checks and giving transportation assistance. Our teams are especially busy during the winter months when we try to move people out of frigid temperatures and into warming centers and shelters throughout the city. On behalf of and in collaboration with local agencies and local government, Catholic Charities operates the Homeless Prevention Call Center, which screens callers and provides emergency, one-time financial assistance to persons who are at risk of being evicted or at risk of having their heat or lights turned off due to a recent crisis. Unfortunately, there is never enough funding to meet the need, and not all people qualify, but preventing homelessness is always the most cost-effective and compassionate use of limited resources. Catholic Charities Evening Supper Programs are located in the city and suburbs and provide a hot evening meal to anyone in need. Meals are generously donated by restaurants and served to guests by volunteers. Guests get a nutritious meal that may be their only meal of the day, and can be connected with other needed services such as housing programs, job training or legal assistance. At our 721 N. LaSalle St. location, we recently added private shower and laundry facilities. Named in honor of the showers and launderette placed near the Vatican, our Pope Francis Ministries gives people the simple dignity of a warm shower and clean clothing. Guests are provided with a fresh towel and toiletries, can have their clothes laundered and can “shop” for a clean set of clothes in our newly remodeled clothing room. Depending upon the season and donated inventory, warm clothing is available and can provide some protection from the elements. During these cold winter months, please keep the homeless in your prayers each night. Pray for their safety, and for a permanent solution to homelessness and its threats to human life and human dignity. If you are looking for a way to provide concrete help, Catholic Charities is always in need of warm winter gear to distribute to those in need.