Urban October – A Time to Advocate for an End to Homelessness

by | Oct 22, 2020 | News, Vincentian Family at the U.N. | 1 comment

Image credit: UN Habitat

Earlier this month, Jim Claffey wrote about the importance of relationship-building, accompanying people at the grass roots, and engaging the voices of persons who have experienced it when advocating to end homelessness.  October has been a great month at the UN to carry out this advice as we honor UN Habitat’s Urban October. The Vincentian Family can be pleased that addressing homelessness is gaining traction at the UN.

October has included UN Habitat Day, October 5 (traditionally the first Monday in October), World Homeless Day (October 10), and World Cities Day (October 31).  World Habitat Day recognizes every person’s right to adequate housing.  The 2020 theme was Housing For All—A Better Urban Future.  World Homeless Day is intended to educate people about the needs of persons experiencing homelessness and to motivate action on the local level. World Cities Day, October 31, will focus on Better Cities, Better Life: Valuing our Communities and Cities.

“I heard about families evicted and taken in by neighbors who had room for the parents but not for the children, thus, the children wound up on the streets.”


In the midst of events sponsored by UN Habitat and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) I’ve taken time to reflect upon sacred stories I’ve heard about persons experiencing homelessness.  They are heart-rending.

What most tugged at my heart was word of a boy who, because centers had to close in the midst of COVID-19 precautions, went to the river to wash, and drowned.  The story of people fleeing terrorism and simultaneously needing to find a place to pitch a tent and wash facilities for COVID protection was stimulation to prayer.  I heard about families evicted and taken in by neighbors who had room for the parents, but not for the children, thus the children wound up on the streets.  At the same time I was heartened by the resilience of women who looked after each other’s children so that they could work.

As Urban October continues, we’re working hard to listen to the voices of persons who are “experts;” who have actually experienced homelessness, and include them in events.


February and March used to be the busiest times of the year for many NGO representatives to the UN, because of the Commission for Social Development in February and the Commission on the Status of Women in March, both of which address social issues. But Urban October, with its focus on housing, homelessness and sustainable world cities, is fast matching the first quarter of the year with awareness- raising opportunities.

Image credit: worldhomelessday.org


For the first time, the United Nations honored World Homeless Day, October 10, with a panel of speakers organized October 12 by the UN DESA and UN Habitat.

Iris Bailey advocating for persons experiencing homelessness

“Everyone should have the right to say ‘this is my mail and address’, ‘my home’, ‘I am going home’, ‘I live here,” said Iris Bailey, a member of the panel.   Ms. Bailey, from New York, is a strong advocate for persons without homes because she has experienced homelessness herself.  Voices like Iris’ wake us up to the cold realities of life on the streets.   Ms. Bailey told me that a woman who had breast surgery was sent home from hospital to a place where another resident had COVID-19.   We, as a society, can do better

The October 12 event also included Dame Louise Casey, from the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, and Freak Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations.  Both are members of the Vincentian Family Homeless Alliance. Chris Williams, from UN Habitat, and Daniela Bas, head of DESA’s Division for Inclusive Social Development, also participated.

Chris Williams, New York Director of UN Habitat, from zoom call

On October 13, the Working Group to End Homelessness, which includes Vincentian Family NGO Representatives to the UN, in collaboration with other NGO representatives, sponsored a zoom meeting called “World Homeless Day: a Time to Care.”   One of the participants was Gladys, a teen who takes part in the Street Children’s Project in Kumasi, Ghana, run by Sr. Olivia Umoh, DC. (The Project now has a new name which focuses upon child safety). Gladys had penned a poignant poem about her past experience surviving on the streets. It was recited at the opening and illustrated how depersonalized one can feel when homeless. Gladys is now working on her education, hoping to become a doctor.


Dame Louise Casey on Zoom

The Institute of Global Homelessness and Dame Louise Casey also were part of an event  icalled C20, in which civil society organizations offered presentations on a variety of topics.  C20 was the biggest virtual gathering of civil society leaders (featuring thousands) in the G20 process, and was held from October 6-10 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  (G20 is a meeting of 19 countries and the European Union.  The G20 Summit is a key forum for international economic cooperation). You can read daily summaries of C20 activates at this link: https://civil-20.org/category/news/

Ending youth global homelessness was also spotlighted during an event involving the Institute of Global Homelessness and UN Habitat yesterday.


The final aspect of Urban October focuses on World Cities Day, October 31. In commemoration of this day, Vincentian Family UN NGO Representatives will offer an event entitled, URBAN AGENDA TO URGENT ACTION: PREVENTING EVICTIONS AND HOMELESSNESS AS FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES AIM TO ENDURE THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC.  The event will run from 1-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 27.    In it, we hope to provide the voice of a person who has experienced an eviction, to highlight the impact of evictions globally, and to hear how the UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda addresses evictions.  The link to register is as follows: https://daughtersofcharity.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUocu-gpjMvH9wFGov01NUlmHGfUbBXCcxY

Evictions in slum areas are rising in the Philippines.  The World Economic Forum (WEF) reported in August that an estimated 40 million people in the US were at risk of eviction over the next several months.   It further indicated that 1,700 families are believed to have been evicted in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, during the pandemic. The WEF also states that Kenyan authorities evicted more than 8,000 people from settlements in Nairobi. And at least 20,000 people have been evicted in India.

We’re committed to continue advocating at the UN for persons experiencing homelessness, so that no more children need survive on the streets, so that persons without homes being discharged from hospital can have a safe place to go, and so that no one drowns in a river because there is nowhere else to bathe.  And so that all may flourish, like Gladys.

1 Comment

  1. jim

    Well done, Margaret, thanks for an excellent article. Urban October will end, but our struggle to end homelessness will continue. Hopefully the event on the 27th will help raise the consciousness of many more to the cause of the home as a human right.

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