On June 28, 2017, Mark McGreevy of the Famvin Homeless Alliance, addressed a gathering at the European Parliament to honor the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian Family. Here in its entirety is Mark’s address, courtesy of the Congregation of the Mission.
So many inspirational speeches… I’ll give it a try.
President Tajani, members of the Parliament ladies and gentlemen, Vincentian brothers and sisters. Thank you for inviting me to speak at this event to mark the 400th anniversary year of the birth of the Vincentian charism. As President Tajani mentioned, this charism is best summed up in the story of the poor and ailing family in the parish of Chatillon (France) where Vincent was serving as a parish priest. The family was too sick to work or to even leave their house and Vincent realized that if they were to survive they needed material aid – food, water and nursing care. Whilst celebrating Mass he implored his congregation to help. Later on that same day he went to visit the family with bread, cheese and milk. On the way Vincent met many of his parishioners who had responded to his plea for help and they were also carrying food and drink for the family. Vincent could see that there was too much food being provided – that the bread would go stale and the milk would turn sour. There was no plan to even out the supply over the coming days and weeks. It was at this point that Vincent realized that there was “great charity” but that it needed to be properly organized if it was to be effective. He said “it is not enough to do good, we must do it well.” So the Vincentian charism to encourage and organize charity was born.
From that point on Vincent devoted himself to the organisation of charity beginning in France before spreading out across Europe and then around the world. He would have had no idea how such a simple concept, 400 years ago, would, in time, grow into an international movement of over two million people incorporating over 250 religious and lay organizations who claim Vicente as their founder and the organization of charity as their mission. Nor would Vicente have guessed at the size and scale of the works of charity currently being undertaken by the Vincentian Family globally, serving millions of the world’s “poorest of the poor”.
Many of these people who the Vincentian Family help around the world fall into the broad definition of being homeless – whether physically living on the streets or in shelters, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people or those living in temporary settlements such as slums or favelas. In its most recent report on the issue, the UN Settlements Agency estimates that over 1.2 billion of the 7 billion people on this planet are homeless in one form or other and that this will most likely grow as a result of poverty, economic downturns, conflict, natural disaster and urbanization. For example:
- There are 65 million refugees globally at the moment which is the highest level ever recorded
- There are 863 million men, women and children live in slums and favelas across the world
- In 1950 only 746 million people lived in our cities. That grew to 3.9 billion in 2014 and will reach 6.4 billion by 2050. This is placing tremendous pressure on housing and services as urbanization gathers pace. And we need to think this.
- There are rising numbers of street homeless people here in Europe and across the world (I travel a lot around our European capitals and in most capitals I go to, this got worst, not better, in the last 10-12 years).
Although the Vincentian Family is already doing a lot to help refugees, slum dwellers and street homeless people we believe that we can do more. We believe that people continue to be naturally charitable and will respond if asked to do something. We believe it is still our Vincentian mission to help organise that charity so that it is effective and sustainable and to that end we will commit as many resources as we can. With that in mind I am delighted to announce today the creation of the Famvin Homeless Alliance – a new Vincentian Family global initiative to serve homeless people as part of our celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of our charism. In summary, the aims of the Famvin Homeless Alliance are:
- to make a real and sustainable difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of homeless people globally by encouraging the growth of new services for refugees, slum dwellers and street homeless people.
- to build a strong network between existing Vincentian groups working across the spectrum of homelessness globally.
- to support and develop existing and emerging leaders in homelessness across the globe
- to share best research, practice and effective models of what works across agencies and countries
- to lobby for structural change in support of homeless people at a national, regional and global level including here in the EU.
- With the help of the Institute of Global Homelessness in Chicago, to end street homelessness in 150 cities across the world by 2030 in collaboration with other agencies and government officials.
The Vincentian Family has asked the charity I work for — Depaul International — to coordinate this work on behalf of the Vincentian Family. Depaul International works with homeless people in numerous countries including several European states – UK, Ireland, France, Slovakia, Croatia and Ukraine serving over 20,000 homeless people. I would welcome connections with parliamentarians from those countries and indeed all countries where the Vincentian Family is present. We need your help and support to grow this mission and end the structural injustice and personal tragedy which is homelessness.
I have a particular message, if you don’t mind, for the parliamentarians in the audience today. The EU, to its great credit, was instrumental in shaping the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals to be delivered by 2030. Of the 17 goals three are particularly relevant as to why we need to end homelessness.
The first is SDG 1 – Eradicating poverty in all its forms – admittedly poverty globally is relative but surely here in Europe eradicating poverty means an end to people living on our streets or in temporary shelters. This is not a matter of charity, this is a matter of justice.
The second is SDG 3 – Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. In my view, housing is a social determinant of health and there is overwhelming evidence that homelessness is associated with ill-health and dramatically lower than average life expectancy for those who live in the streets. We need to be better for those people in the streets.
Finally, SDG 11 – Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable. This goal includes providing safe adequate housing for all. By definition this includes preventing and addressing homelessness.
We are glad that the EU has been engaged in creating these SDGs and committed to these goals and, as the elected representatives in this room, we hope you hold the Commissions accountable to deliver this.
Finally, I note, from its website, that among the European Union’s fundamental values are respect for human dignity, the defense of human rights, the promotion of equality and the wellbeing of every citizen. In short ensuring that everybody is treated fairly. Those values represent a world view that was shared by Vicente de Paul and continue to be shared by the two million members of the Vincentian family globally. We very much want to be partners in your mission and make those values come alive for homeless people across the world.
Vincent was a bridge between the powerful and the powerless, between the rich and the poor, between ideas and action. I hope that together we can build bridges to ensure everyone in Europe, indeed everyone in the world has a place they can call home and a stake in their community.