The four most powerful words in the English language. Because everyone
loves a good story.
Once upon a time, following the debacle of World War II, several leading
countries came together to form a new international organization. The League of
Nations had come and gone. But the need for a platform, an organized way for
nations to meet and discuss common issues, especially those of war and peace, was
readily apparent. And so the United Nations was born 75 years ago, October 24,
1945 in San Francisco, with a charter that begins “We the People.”
So as we close out this anniversary year, marked by, at the insistence of the
Secretary-General, shared reflection more than celebration, a critical and hopeful
look at the organization seems appropriate.
Critics frequently cite infuriatingly slow and complex procedures at the UN,
its bureaucracy, its tendency to discuss issues over and over, without actually
achieving significant change. The organization is also criticized for the platform it
provides for nations to sign documents and statements at elaborate photo ops
without much meaningful follow-up. Showboating and hypocrisy are undeniable.
And while much of that is true, it is not the full story.
Why so complex and slow? With 192 countries, multiple cultures and
languages, and a myriad of interests/issues, how quickly could anything be done?
In its defense, the Organization does not have the power to enforce its
decisions, much less control what countries, or “Member States” in official
language, choose to do. Then too the Security Council has a glaring weakness:
there is no membership for the real global powers of today, like Japan or India;
reform here seems immensely difficult. And with the current unfortunate rise of
extreme nationalism in many parts of the world, collective partnership is sorely
threatened, and with it solidarity and action for the common good.
But the United Nations does serve as an invaluable global forum where
countries can discuss and act on pressing issues, war and peace certainly, and in
addition the UN protects human rights, delivers humanitarian aid, fights extreme
poverty, addresses climate change, promotes sustainable development and upholds international law. A sweeping agenda and an open one as well—the UN now also
responds to COVID19.
It is important to remember that the UN is not an end in itself, but a means
of achieving common goals. In his work Politics and Process at the UN, Courtney B.
Smith uses the subtitle The Global Dance and argues that
“The strength and effectiveness of the Organization depends on the active
support of its Member States and their policies…..The UN brings diverse
actors together in a complex routine of procedures and practices where
each seeks to shift the music so that the process is moving towards
outcomes it prefers. Some strut, others inspire, and a few just remain on
the sidelines, but the hope is that the number of participants willing to
dance to the same music will increase over time, to the end that effective
solutions to pressing global problems can be found.”
Dag Hammarskjold, a celebrated former Secretary-General, reminds us the
UN “was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”
Left to themselves countries drift into dangerous antagonism, and without a
multilateral effort, old problems are likely to deepen. Pope Francis says that the
UN is an “obligatory reference point of justice and a channel of peace.”
There really is no alternative to the UN. If it didn’t exist, we would have to invent
it. The challenge is to help it live up to expectations. In a true sense, WE are the UN.
It’s all about us and the future of People and Planet. Let’s help it dance to the same
music, that of the universal common good.
Let’s give this story a happy ending. And so we might:
Pray that the UN fulfill its promise for the good of all humankind;
Connect with the UN Agenda, and learn about the 2030 Agenda for People
and Planet in the form of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, at first
glance a utopian dream but utterly doable if nations collaborate for the
common good. Use the various Vincentian Family websites to learn more; for
the CM, www.congregationofthemission-un-ngo.com;
Join in advocacy efforts with other Vincentians on issues related to our
charism, at this time especially homelessness.
James E. Claffey
Since the inception of the Institute of Global Homelessness, the most common question we are asked is: "How many people are experiencing homelessness globally?" The answer, unfortunately, is that nobody knows. Mapping and measuring homelessness as a global phenomenon has never been done, due in part to differing definitions of homelessness and to varying methods for data collection which render side-by-side comparisons impossible. But just because something has never been done doesn't mean it cannot be done, and so IGH is excited to announce the launch of the Better Data Project, which collates all available numbers, despite their incompatibility with one another, in order to showcase the difference between definitions and methodologies, see where gaps exist, and work together around the world to align terminologies and data collection practices.
My beloved aunt and godmother is 95 and living in a locked-down senior care
facility. I haven’t been able to see her in 9 months. Thank you, COVID19.
I’m sure many of us have similar stories.
Masks and lock-downs, Zoom and closures. The hope for a vaccine. At times it
seems we haven’t spoken of much else in a very long time. And maybe there’s not
much about the pandemic that hasn’t been said at this point.
Two hours of UN TV on the subject the other day yielded nothing new, except to
reaffirm that COVID19 is the greatest global health crisis we face, and that it is
also a humanitarian crisis, a socio-economic one, a security issue and a human rights
crisis. Recent webinars have shown clearly how the pandemic intersects with almost
every issue we could think of: COVID and Human Rights, How COVID Impacts the
UN’s 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, COVID and the Lack of
Adequate Social Protection, etc.
And of course COVID and Homelessness. We five Vincentian Family NGOs (CM,
DC, AIC, SSVP and the SC Federation) hosted a webinar on Cities and Evictions
during the Pandemic, attended by 53 other NGOs. It is worth noting here that a
group of Niagara University students presented us with excellent research on the
issue that we will be able to use in future events.
So this is the context of the special season of Advent in this difficult year many
of us would rather forget. However, maybe the Advent message this year calls us
to see beyond how COVID19 affects us, reminding us that others are suffering
much more than we, and that we should not forget other tragedies accompanying
the virus. Advent is a time of waiting and yearning, not passively, but in an active
sense, that of preparing ourselves for something. Or in this case, Someone, to be
born again in our hearts and lives.
As always, with anything truly Christian, that means being aware of others, being
compassionate, and where possible acting with them in mind. Although we should
see and think globally, we should also see and act locally. Advent in this context
can be an opportunity for a bit of advocacy.
Consider schoolchildren living in poverty, who do not have the laptops necessary for
virtual learning, and are falling behind schoolmates of greater means. Is there a
local way to address this need?
We might encourage the people we serve to donate to, or work with, foodbanks as
food insecurity grows.
We can speak up when others discriminate against people of Asian origin by
unfairly blaming them for the pandemic.
We can participate in advocacy efforts to end the alarming spike in domestic
violence as claustrophobic “staying at home” takes a toll.
We could call or write our Congressional and local lawmakers to advocate for:
An immediate end to the cruel practice of housing evictions during a
A much-needed stimulus relief package and continuance of unemployment
Changes in public policy to strengthen protection systems people need and
want now that the virus has revealed them to be totally inadequate;
A fair distribution of a vaccine, when fully tested and available. Perhaps
there will be pledges to sign calling for equity in this regard.
The congregation is a global community. How can we show solidarity with
developing countries, especially where confreres work, as they face the tragedies
of this virus but without the resources and possibilities of wealthier countries?
Advent, a time of prayerful expectant waiting. But also a time of compassionate
outreach for those who suffer most at this time, a great way to prepare and open
our hearts to celebrate the Birth of the One who is Love Incarnate.
NOTE: Others might contribute to this indicative, non-exhaustive list, helping us
all to be aware of pandemic issues and needs beyond our own.
NGO representative of the CM @ the UN
FB: congregation of the mission at the UN
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)
The World Environment Day has been celebrated on June 5th since 1974 (https://www.un.org/en/observances/environment-day). It has been an effective tool for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and part of its strategy to engage all stakeholders – governments, businesses, civil society, etc. – to achieve this overarching goal: raise awareness and create action to protect the environment. This year´s theme is biodiversity which is critical for all life on land and below water. It is a highly sensitive and interconnected system that, if affected, could have negative effects on all its members.
As we all have been witnessing repeatedly in the past decades, the detrimental consequences of a harmed biodiversity are felt by all human society with visible signs from our surrounding nature. Therefore, as much as COVID-19 has been painful, troublesome and life-changing for all of us, there is a glimpse of hope in its midst. Both climate scientists and activists have continuously been warning the whole world that the direction we are heading in is neither sustainable nor in any way smart on the long run. Gladly, nature has made it clear to us during COVID-19 that there is still, even though little, room for sustainable change and a healthy future for the generations to come.
The amount of stories that animals have been showing up in places where they haven´t in a long time like dolphins in the Bosporus strait, or rivers cleaning itself like the Ganges in India – something that human beings failed to achieve despite investing millions of dollars. Those are only two examples of nature proving to us that in a fairly small amount of time of human self-isolation, it can successfully achieve what humanity only was about to destroy in the past decades. Even though those are only little steps, they should send a loud and clear message to all of us: Nature isn´t done yet!
Yes, we are and will be experiencing a major economic crisis that will not halt in front of any human being. Yes, millions of people have and will have lost their jobs. Yes, the importance of getting back into a healthy routine is lacking and strenuous for the mental health of all human beings. However, and this however should not be diminished, the potential to change the future course of humanity is as big as rarely before. The opportunity to take action for sustainable changes so that future generations won´t have to worry about our present concerns anymore.
Looking at the SDGs, there is only one way to address COVID-19 – together! As encompassing as those goals are, they are only a starting point for humanity to live in harmony with each other and nature. Disturbing racial tensions in the US must be taken seriously in order to move forward together. The most vulnerable and excluded by society – the invisible victims like homeless people, but also women, girls and minorities – need to be heard in order to protect our environment. If humanity keeps fighting each other, we will never be able to live sustainably and in harmony with the environment.
We need to realize that money won´t solve the environmental problems which we face. It is the shared willingness to listen to each other and, of course, nature itself. Watch and learn how its mechanisms are trying to protect this world´s biodiversity. Of course, in the short-term some nations and human beings will be required to invest more resources than others. However, the long-term gain is exceedingly more precious for everybody.
Today, we celebrate World Environment Day and hopefully, raise awareness that nature isn´t done yet. COVID-19 gave us a glimpse of hope in this regard that humanity can change its course with a recovering nature. Let´s celebrate loudly so that we as humanity come together to build a sustainable future for all. How will you celebrate World Environment Day? Will you celebrate it in fear of others? Will you celebrate it by enjoying short-term pleasure? Or will you celebrate it by lifting your voice, amplifying the message that needs to be heard and repeated until it has reached every heart, soul and mind that we are all in this together?
Whether you like it or not, we are all in this together and sustainable change, protecting nature and biodiversity starts with you and me right now. We have no more time to waste. Too many people are suffering, and nature is still on the brink of more detrimental consequences for all of us. Let´s stand up for what is right, for justice in every regard and support our shared future, so that we all can enjoy it together!