As discussed in last week’s “Family Homelessness and the ‘Planet’” SDGs webinar hosted by UNANIMA International, a healthy planet equals health people. Around the world, there is a need for shifting political will and prioritizing the environment we all live in. Countries must enter the Paris agreement and reach the goals that they set for themselves. These goals must be approached holistically and with ecosystems in mind.
Resilience, as we have seen throughout history, is a valuable skill of those around the world who are struggling. However, as we move into 2021, resilience is not enough to alleviate all suffering. More developed countries must deliver to their promises and agreements. Governments need to listen to all parties, from farmers to legislators, to understand the role they play as we bring the planet to the forefront of our mission. For example, SDG 14 and 15 push for solidarity among countries to help those most affected by natural disasters. As climate change increases these disasters, so too must our global communities commit to one another.
As UNANIMA’s webinar relates to the goals of the Congregation of the Mission, the webinar discussed how Covid-19 has tremendously affected homelessness. Again, the webinar emphasized that housing should be a human right. As it relates to the planet, extreme weather exacerbates homelessness- many houses are destroyed and gardens/food produce is often destroyed. Weather patterns are changing in many countries, and the need for climate change action is imperative. The biggest driver in many African countries stems from control of natural resources. These countries are rich in many natural resources, yet many still live in poverty. Without a place to call home or a place to practice regular hygiene, many around the world are living in growingly occupied shelters. At the same time, many international disasters are getting increasingly worse. Many carbon emission targets have not been met, and in this way, we have failed globally.
Homelessness will not end without an emphasis on halting climate change. Housing is not just a roof, but rather a fundamental right that requires a multidisciplinary effort. People and families need to be at the center with the poorest and most vulnerable. Homelessness does not act alone- there many drivers and many consequences. We must all actively work to increase our awareness of the trauma in families, communities and the globe in order to correct and address increasing homelessness and suffering in our world. The United Nations is working actively towards this goal.
Attend the next event to get informed and listen to more speakers that are actively working to alleviate these issues. Register for the next UNANIMA webinar “Family Homelessness and the “People” SDGs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6)”, Friday November 20th at 9am EST.
Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_QTYk5sfXRUqsWCrSu7H7bQ
Family Homelessness Through the Lens of the United Nations 2030 Agenda Volume One:
THE SHIFT recognizes housing as a human right, not a commodity or an extractive industry. The Shift restores the understanding of housing as home, challenging the ways financial actors undermine the right to housing. Using a human rights framework, The Shift provokes action to end homelessness, unaffordability, and evictions globally.
To learn more, visit
Focusing on integral ecology, common goods, economic democracy, land, shelter, labor, education, health, communication, technology, sovereignty, human mobility and peace, those who are active in popular movements and organizations have written this document in efforts to provide insight into how we can imagine “an alternative system that will overcome and eradicate the worldwide idolatry of money that structures the global economy and our lives.”
While this reading may seem provocative, utopian and unrealistic, it contains elements necessary to achieve the kind of world that allows, for everyone, life with dignity.
Document attached below:
Last week’s event “Urban Agenda to Urgent Action” in connection with World Cities’ Day was informative and hopeful for the future as we continue to work towards prevention of evictions and homelessness during COVID-19. Forceful evictions are not in line with the United Nation’s goals and do not take into account the welfare of humanity. Around the world, people are suffering and as presented during the event, these issues are disproportionately affecting women who, in many parts of the world, lack the resources needed to access credit facilities and own land. IGH’s three strategic priorities surrounding these issues are to ‘see it’, ‘solve it’ and ‘share it.’ When approaching evictions and homelessness, we must work to define the issues at their root and do research that measures needs and goals of these communities. Next, we must back these statistics with tangible action that drives change. Finally, we must share this action and research to build networks that are not only aware of what is happening, but equipped with the tools to dismantle these injustices. While situations are changing and life is unpredictable, we must breed awareness that de-stigmatizes homelessness and emphasizes solidarity. PhD students at the University of Connecticut shared one potential solution. After thorough research, they created a shared resource guide focusing on landlords and tenant relationships that has potential to create lasting change in preventing evictions. Evictions and homelessness look differently around the world. While in the US, we need to focus on tenant and landlord relationships, in other countries, there is a deeper need for establishing tenure security and greater potential for block titles. Through all of the research and initiatives presented, two points from the event were made clear: there is a need for shifting global policy and creating mediation strategies for lasting change.
As we continue to live through pandemic times, many questions arise surrounding homelessness. Primarily, how can the global community mitigate future pandemics and catastrophes in case this is not an isolated incident? University of Niagara students have worked to answer questions including “what are the preconditions for global homelessness?” And “how will global homelessness be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?"
Over the course of 29 minutes & 29 power/pt slides, students of the University of Niagara presented great research in a beautiful presentation on homelessness & the pandemic, including recommendations for the UN.
Here is the YouTube video of the video of the presentation as well as the executive summary of the research and the powerpoint presentation.
A number of years ago, my sister, a critical care nurse with a prominent Home Health Care Agency, wrote a piece for a local newspaper about care for homebound patients. She called it “Who’s the Boss,” cleverly sharing the name of a then-popular TV SITCOM.
Her point was that patients must have a say in their treatment protocol if it is to be successful. That care-givers must listen to patients and take their opinions seriously, instead of an instinct a trained professional might have to simply decide what must be done, and how. After all, he or she is the expert here and what was all that schooling for?
I thought of this recently while reading Street Homelessness and Catholic Theological Ethics, co-edited by Mark McGreevy who chairs the Vincentian Family’s Homeless Alliance (FHA). The Alliance is the unique common project of the 160 branches of the Family of St. Vincent de Paul, the Universal Patron of Charity for the Catholic Church. The Family currently serves in 156 countries.
Expecting chapters filled with calls for advocacy and structural change to eliminate systemic homelessness as a necessary component to end poverty, the first section speaks of “encountering and accompanying” the homeless as part of a “revolution of tenderness” that Pope Francis calls for. It went on to talk about Empathy, Humanity and Hospitality.
My first thought was “oh no, please don’t overly spiritualize a critical social problem.” Like offering “thoughts and prayers” following yet another shooting incident, without any effort to deal with the issue concretely.
How wrong can one be? I had momentarily forgotten what St. Vincent taught us: that it’s not only about doing good in the world, but doing it well. As he said about feeding the hungry, give them bread and soup, but also give a cup and spoon and even a napkin, so they can eat with the dignity they deserve.
Challenging systemic homelessness, indeed all forms of the poverty that dehumanizes so many, is rightfully the goal. But it’s also necessary to begin with the right method by “listening and accompanying” because how we go about change is critical.
Many of us have learned that true and lasting change of the systems that entrap so many in poverty comes from the bottom up, not top-down. Not from those in powerful positions, not from governments. Poverty, including homelessness as one key component, cannot be erased by decrees and it certainly will not come from political promises. It will come from the victims of injustice, from the people who suffer the problem, who are the real “experts” on the issues. They must be heard, they must be involved, and they must act. But they will not unless approached, listened to, accompanied and taken seriously.
The authors of chapter one give powerful testimony about their encounter with the homeless. Doing street outreach they found is not primarily about giving help but building relationships. Not developing new social circles or replacing one’s friends, but developing friendly relationships of trust and respect with those experiencing homelessness. One description later in the book summarizes it beautifully:
“It all begins with one-on-one, human-to-human connections. It doesn’t come about when the person of relative privilege seeks to save or change the person who is suffering. Instead, there must be a deep listening for the words, the dreams, the hopes that are already within the individual.”
That kind of listening does not come easily to most of us now with limited attention spans and 24/7 information overloads. But if we engage in the process of true accompaniment, both persons may be significantly and positively changed. Maybe even “converted” in the Vincentian way: we evangelize and serve the poor and are ourselves converted in the process.
This is the “culture of encounter” Pope Francis speaks of. It’s the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a slice of the Kingdom of God we’re supposed to build on earth.
It means no one is home until everyone has a home. It means authentic listening to the real experts here. And how we get there depends on how we start.
UN NGO Congregation of the Mission representative
Addendum: Concerned about homelessness? Visit www.vfhomelessalliance.org to learn more or to join the “13 houses” campaign.
On June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day with this year´s theme “Every Action Counts” which might raise three questions that will be discussed in this article: 1) Why do we celebrate international days and what is the idea behind it? 2) What exactly is a refugee and what related terminology do we need to know? 3) What does it practically mean that every action counts? Let´s address each of those important questions individually.
First of all, international days are important as they are critical tools to raise global and public awareness about certain issues that affect all of humanity. Whether those days are directly related to historic achievements, to the death or life of significant figures or strategically chosen to amplify their impact – the importance of such special days can´t be underestimated! They function as both advocacy tools as well as days of celebration to cherish the progress we have made on certain issues so far while recommitting to more action and dedication for the future. Therefore, international days contain some sort of tension that allows anyone who hears about or celebrates them, to engage on a deeper level with the particular issue raised on that very day.
Now that we have established the nature and significance of international days,
let´s take the example of today´s World Refugee Day – what are we celebrating today? In our polarized world, refugee has become a loaded term and often confused with related terms like asylum seekers, internally displaced people, stateless persons, and returnees. Therefore, here is a list with a short definition for each one of those terms by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day):
“A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.”
“Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.”
“Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country.”
“Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country.” “Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Their lack of identification — a citizenship certificate — can exclude them from access to important government services, including health care, education or employment.”
“Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives at home.”
It is critical to be aware of those distinctions, not only to be politically correct, but most of all to be able to address people individually by not throwing them into a vague pool of “foreigners” which tends to be very disrespectful as it usually neglects the past and emotions of a human being and dignity. We celebrate the World Refugee Day because rather sooner than later this world should be striving for/achieving societies where there are no refugees because of inclusive and respectful treatment of each other. Regardless of how far away we as current society might be though, this year´s theme shows us the right approach: “Every Action Counts”!
“Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror”, according to a recent statistic by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day). This fact cries out for people from all over the world to take bold steps in this regard as it matters! Sometimes our individual influence and impact might seem trivial in this humongous world.
However, looking at the COVID-19 pandemic and the current anti-racism protests all around the world, we can clearly see that they only way to move forward sustainably into a more inclusive and equal society is if, and only if, we do it together. Educate, talk to, encourage and listen to each other so that each voice is heard and brought to the table. Change is driven by all of us and not only the political authorities which the current protests and the quarantine regulations have clearly exemplified. One step at a time to ensure that no one is left behind! It won´t happen over night but by collective and repeated interaction with each and every part and person of society! Refugees are as much part of the society as you are, so let´s make sure that their voices are heard, amplified and acted upon!
“Everyone can make a difference. This is at the heart of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign. This year, we aim to remind the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society and Every Action Counts in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world.” (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day)