A Vincentian View: Homelessness
Once every two years, St. John’s runs a “Poverty Conference.” This conference invites a discussion on an important situation in our society which impacts upon those who are poor and marginalized. In the past few years, issues like human trafficking, ecology, and education have received consideration. This year, the question of homelessness held center stage for obvious reasons at a Vincentian University.
One does not have to spend too much time in any major city—and lots of smaller cities—to see the problem of homelessness expressed in flesh and blood. NYC is a prime example. More than 100,000 people are without stable residence in “the big apple” alone. Individuals and families can be seen in whatever direction one chooses to look, and sometimes chooses not to look. It is one of the most concerning issues of our time for our cities and it has lots of causes.
On October 21st, at the Poverty Conference organized by the Vincentian Research Fellows and the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, three presentations were made by people intimately familiar with the different faces of homelessness.
Lee Stringer is the author of two well-received books: Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street and Sleepaway School. Mr. Stringer lived homeless and crack-addicted on the streets of NY for more than a decade. To the SJU conference, he brought the personal experience of a person who knows the reality of being without family or support and who learns to survive day-to-day. For a University which rests in the middle of a big city and which seeks to make some difference in the lives of people who are marginalized in that city, Mr. Stringer had a potent message which he delivered in a most personal manner.
Rosanne Haggerty is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Solutions. Ms. Haggerty is a widely regarded expert on homelessness and finding means of overcoming this problem through working with communities. To the Poverty Conference, she brought an impressive knowledge of the reality of homelessness in our city and country. She knows the numbers. She has frequently been identified by her dealing successfully with this issue in a 20 square block area around Times Square in NYC. One of her “innovative” approaches for dealing with their reality was by talking to the homeless themselves and learning directly what kept them in their current condition. Clearly, this approach which would appeal to Vincent de Paul.
Jim White is the Executive Director of Covenant House NJ. Covenant House, as we know, pays particular attention to the young people who have been and could be living on the street. Mr. White told stories about the situations of homeless youth in our country and why they were in this condition. Like the other speakers, Mr. White emphasized that the needs of these our children cannot be resolved with a short term “fix.” The only way of dealing with this problem for all the homeless is by systematic and focused attention.
Thus, three experts with a variety of experiences came to the SJU campus and shared their insights and wisdom around homelessness. It offered to our community a rare opportunity to learn from those who have spent a great deal of time in this ministry. How much encouragement was offered to us to respond to Matt 25:35, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me”!
(Editor’s Note: More on this conference and it’s speakers will be shared by Natalie Boone in tomorrow morning’s UN article)