The Vincentian Family at the UN devotes a great deal of energy to the issue of global homelessness, as it’s been the shared goal for the past several years.

With the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) convening this week, we remain committed to our shared goal, to speak to the Member States about the reality of homelessness, and the impact it has on people experiencing it.

We have prepared “Talking points,” to guide us in our advocacy, thanks to two very bright and able interns, Joanna Padgett Herz, and Brian Wilson.

We’ll be linking the (Sustainable Development Goals) SDG’s with the crisis of global homelessness as we lobby for homeless people throughout the world. www.sustainabledevelopement.un.org

While our work at the UN continues, it can easily become abstract. We speak in terms of numbers of people living on the street, or in substandard housing. How will we define homelessness? Will we include couch surfers, families doubled up in tight spaces? How can we be sure all countries are using the same method as they count? And how will we be sure they’re giving honest answers, without fear of shame?

As Vincentians, we strive to be the voice of the voiceless. We want to know the pain and suffering first- hand, in order to bring it to the more powerful, in order to bring a more just system. We believe the words of St. Vincent de Paul, “There is no charity that is not accompanied by justice.”

And in the words of Blessed Frederic, “The order of society is based on two virtues: Justice and Charity…”

Again, in the words of Blessed Frederic, “The knowledge of social wellbeing and reform is to be learned not only from books nor from the public platform, but by climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him. When these conditions have been examined in all different parts of the country, it is then and only then that we know the elements of these formidable problems.”

We learn about poverty through our own experience or by being with the people experiencing it.

I write this to say, we are the Vincentian Family at the United Nations, it can be an excited job, meeting Ambassadors, former Presidents and former Prime Ministers. One might become overwhelmed by the “glamour” of it all, if not for our Vincentian roots, our charism. And our love of God and his people.
All his people.

I was recently invited to spend the day with a formerly homeless woman, Iris. Iris has been working with us at the UN, as the voice of homelessness in New York City. Iris has spoken at a couple of UN meetings recently. She’s warm and friendly, with her unique perspective, she can tell us exactly what it means to be without a home to go to. Iris’ invitation was to spend a few hours at her weekly Faith Sharing meeting. There were about 20 people in attendance, all either homeless or formally homeless.

The love and the Holy Spirit were palpable. In a room of strangers, I was greeted like a long-lost sister. I was loved, respected, and fed, body and soul.

The reason I’m telling you this is simple. I’m a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I represent SSVP at the United Nations, as part of the Vincentian Family.

Without the grounding of my daily contact with those we serve, I couldn’t be a successful representative at the UN. Remaining close to our Vincentian Charism keeps me on the right path, it allows me to walk with both feet, Justice and Charity.

By remaining close to those we serve, we’re speaking in their voices when the opportunity to speak with people in authority arises. Knowing Iris, it’s she I’m thinking of when I speak of homelessness. And similarly, when speaking about education, we have the children of families suffering from extreme poverty in our heart. Being a Vincentian gives us the gift of speaking from experience, if not our own, then that of people we visit.

I feel blessed by this great opportunity to serve at the UN, but not a day goes by that I’m not fully aware of the great responsibility that comes with it.

Pattie Hughes, SVdP

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