A few weeks ago, I wrote about homelessness and immigration. The situation of the poor on our Southern border preserves these people in the thoughts and prayers of all of us. Our Vincentian focus on homelessness at this time keeps the theme alive and current. The topic of homelessness continues to hold its place in my mind, but now with a particular emphasis upon the young on the streets of our cities. The element that has focused that reality for me arises from the fact that the holder of the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice at St. John’s University for the coming year will be Kevin Ryan who fills the role of CEO and President of Covenant House International. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to assure his presence for 2019-2020. I want to believe, and do believe, that he can speak to our students about their peers who wander the streets of our cities without a stable residence or means of support.
The organizing title for Kevin’s presentations will be the same as the title of this essay, “From Homelessness to Hope.” The idea is compelling. Inviting these young people to come off the streets and begin to deal with their various problems centers on the possibility of having a place to stay and regular food to eat and someone to talk with. This “home” gives birth to hope for so many of these youth. Hope, in turn, promotes success and self-confidence. Having a place to call home provides young people (or anyone) with a base on which they can begin to construct a future and healthy living. They grow in hope. Covenant House nourishes and strengthens this belief.
As I was preparing different documents to promote our yearlong program, I regularly confused the title in my typing. I wrote “From Hopelessness to Home.” As I thought about it, I wondered if that, in fact, could serve equally well as the theme. I was reminded of the closing line of a short story which I have read: “Without hope in the future, there is no strength in the present.” I believe this to be true. If we have no sense of a future for which to strive, we do not feel inclined to expend any energy in bringing it about. Paul writes to his communities: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up”(Gal 6:9; cf. 2 Thess 3:13). Hope gives us energy and calls us to fidelity because it holds out the possibility that things can be different.
Offering people a place to call home does establish the foundation for hope. Though not exactly Vincent’s foundlings, the young women and men who find succor at Covenant House have similar needs met. Our own Daughter of Charity, Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, DC, led the mission of Covenant House for 13 years (1990-2003). There, she brought and found an appropriate expression of our charism.
As our St. John’s community focuses upon the ministry of Covenant House during this year, we will find a genuine space to emphasize our Vincentian spotlight on homelessness for a particular population—our youth. (The data associated with this group are staggering in terms of number, abuse, addictions, and trafficking. The Department of Justice estimates that every year over 1.7 million teens experience homelessness in the US.) We pray that our program can inform and change minds and hearts. The compassion and action that we seek to promote must begin within each one of us. I know that Vincent and Louise would applaud this effort.