1. Mark how, when and why was Depaul International born?
Depaul International (originally Depaul Trust) came into being in London in 1989 as collaborative undertaking of the Vincentian Family. Its founders were the Daughters of Charity, the society of St Vincent de Paul and the Passage Day Centre based in London. Its first Patron was Cardinal Basil Hume, the then head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and its primary mission was to provide accommodation and support for a growing number of young homeless people sleeping on the streets of the UK.
Depaul International, and each member of the Depaul Group, owes its inspiration and its values to Vincent de Paul, a major social reformer in 17th Century France. Vincent de Paul reached out to the poor and the disenfranchised, valuing each and every person. Throughout the Depaul Group we follow in his footsteps and are equally committed to help the poorest of the poor – and to place actions ahead of words.
Since 1989, Depaul has grown from one small accommodation project into an international group of charities which annually supports over 23,000 homeless individuals of all ages across seven countries. Our approach is tailored to the people, communities and the diverse issues in each country, with our services ranging from providing safe shelter, accommodation, food and health services to helping people affected by homelessness to receive the education, employment and social support they need.
Currently the Depaul Group includes Depaul United Kingdom (1989), Depaul Ireland (2002), Depaul Slovakia (2006), Depaul Ukraine (2007), Depaul USA (2008), Depaul France (2013), The Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness (2014), Famvin Homeless Alliance (2017) and Depaul Croatia (2018).
Although our work began with young people we have diversified over time and each country responds to needs and gaps as they perceive them – street drinkers and drug takers in Ireland, mothers and babies and internally displaced people in Ukraine, hospice care in Slovakia, migrants in France, former gang members in the USA, and mentally ill people in Croatia.
In addition to the work of our subsidiary charities, Depaul partnered in 2014 with DePaul University in Chicago (the largest Catholic University in the USA) to create the newly renamed Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness. This is first institute focusing on homelessness as a global issue in the areas of leadership development, sharing best practices across countries, research and practical initiatives.
Finally, and back to our roots Depaul International is leading a global initiative of the Vincentian Family called the Famvin Homeless Alliance. We have many ideas to address homelessness at a global level, but one in particular is the “13 Houses Campaign”. Over 400 years ago Vincent de Paul was left $1 million dollars by King Louis XIII of France. He used this money to buy 13 Houses in Paris to house the 1,200 street children he was supporting alongside the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity (AIC). The Ladies of Charity provided the financial support for those houses and the Daughters of Charity provided the management and care. They even had rules to ensure the children were fed properly, kept clean and had access to education – the beginning of quality assurance manuals, as we know them today.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism in 2016 the Famvin Homeless Alliance launched a modern day 13 Houses Campaign with the goal of transforming the lives of 10,000 homeless people around the world. This Campaign seeks to facilitate collaboration across the Vincentian Family and bring together different projects united by one objective: ending homelessness. To date the campaign has already reached over 40 countries housing 6,000 people and there is more in the pipeline. These projects range from house refurbishments and social support in Lebanon to new house builds in Madagascar.
2. Let’s talk a little about your story and your value. Your service is born in the Vincentian charism: what are the characteristics of your vision? What are your values?
I began my career teaching at Westminster Cathedral Choir School and during my spare time I volunteered at the Passage Day Centre in London, which was when I was first introduced to both homeless people and the work of the Vincentian family. I joined Depaul not long after it was founded back in 1989 as part of the Senior Management Team. Sister Sarah King-Turner, a Daughter of Charity was the first Director and steered us through those early days. I was very taken by the values-led way in which all the members of the Vincentian family operated in establishing the charity. A true focus on the poorest of the poor and practical action to relieve suffering. I find these Vincentian values and spirituality from which they have grown a constant source of inspiration.
At the core of all our work we are inspired by our vision of “a society in which everyone, across the world, has a place to call home and a stake in their community” – because we believe in the fundamental right of each person to adequate housing, opportunities and safety.
We are guided by our Vincentian values that are at the heart of everything we do:
We celebrate the potential in people: We work collaboratively in a way that empowers people; we treat service users with respect; we consult and listen; we invest in our staff and volunteers.
We put words into action: We do what we say we will do. We are committed to innovation and to finding new ways to tackle the problems we encounter. We take risks in working with marginalised groups and people with challenging behaviour.
We take a wider role in civil society: We work in partnership with government, local authorities, the private sector, churches and other voluntary agencies to achieve the best outcomes for our service users. We are open and accountable to our staff, volunteers, service users, and funders. We influence structural change in society and with a global perspective. We strive for best practice and using our resources effectively.
We believe in rights and responsibilities: We uphold and safeguard people’s rights and recognise responsibilities – we apply this equally to the organisation, service users, staff, and volunteers.
3. What are the fields of action of your mission? Some concrete examples of your help?
At the heart of Depaul is our mission to end homelessness and change the lives of those affected by it. At Depaul International we do this through:
Innovation and Growth: We provide a platform for Depaul Group members to share and develop new approaches to ending homelessness – informed by best practice and stemming from their own experience. We also establish new subsidiaries in countries where we can improve what is on offer, or, where there is an identified lack of services for people experiencing homelessness.
Support: We support other Depaul Group members to provide the highest standards of governance, finance and service provision. We also help develop capacity where needed, share expertise, support fundraising activities, and build networks of influence.
Living our values: We ensure that the Depaul Groups shared Vincentian values are embedded in all aspects of organisational life and inform the decisions we make. To achieve this goal, we organise and develop training and formation programmes to make sure that everyone, from the front-line to the boardroom, understands and lives our values and reflects on our shared history and spirituality.
Advocacy: Depaul International (on behalf of the Depaul Group) partners with Depaul University to oversee the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness – a global research, advocacy and leadership development forum providing a global voice for the issue of street homelessness. We also coordinate the Famvin Homeless Alliance that delivers practical partnership projects and lobbies for systemic change for homeless people across the world by bringing together homelessness charities that work in the spirit of St Vincent de Paul.
Over the last 3 years alone, examples of our work towards our mission have included the development of an innovative prisons pathway project in Ukraine to prevent homelessness at the point of release from jail; welcoming Depaul Croatia to the Group; opening accommodations for homeless students in the United States; creating pioneering housing concepts in the UK; and services for refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. In Slovakia, a unique integration project created a sustainable path off the streets; and in France, we are taking on a mobile shower as a new Depaul service. Recently we have taken strides in advocating for homeless people on a global level via our work with the Institute of Global Homelessness and drove the development of housing in over 40 countries through the 13 Houses Campaign of the Famvin Homeless Alliance.
4. How are you facing this pandemic period, what are the needs that you face most?
Throughout the pandemic I have borne in mind the words of Pope Francis’, General Audience, 19th of August 2020: “The response to the pandemic is therefore dual. On the one hand, it is essential to find a cure for this small but terrible virus, which has brought the whole world to its knees. On the other, we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalization, and the lack of protection for the weakest.”
Those words inspired me, especially during the most challenging times of the pandemic, to continue to pursue Depaul International’s vision of a society in which everyone, across the world, has a place to call home and a stake in their community.
I am sure that many members of our global Vincentian family will agree that there is nothing more important than family. For me this includes my own, our Depaul and wider Vincentian family, along with the people whom we serve. Over the last 31 years, I have taken much pride in seeing how the Depaul Group has grown and evolved, from its roots in a single project in London to now working in seven countries, co-partnering to create the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness and leading the Famvin Homeless Alliance.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has affected us all. It is highly likely that it may go on for some time to come as we tackle new variants of COVID-19 – certainly until the worlds entire population is vaccinated. Since March 2020, I have been touched to hear the many examples of how our Vincentian Values are being put into practice by our frontline staff who have managed to keep our vital accommodation and supportive services open for the most vulnerable in our society
Vincent de Paul himself lived in a time of many plagues and pandemics. His focus was always on ensuring the health of his colleagues whilst focusing on the needs of the “poorest of the poor”. 400 years later, we find ourselves in the same position, and I am sure he would be proud of our efforts to date.
Within the Depaul Group we are working tirelessly to help with our global mission to end homelessness. The Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness is collating and promoting best practices in different countries across the world in response to COVID-19 and sharing these practices with practitioners in other parts of the world such as Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The Famvin Homeless Alliance has also launched emergency appeals as a response to the pandemic and is actively encouraging local faith communities to fund the preservation of tenancies, and the provision of food and aid to those exposed to infection and at risk in locations such as slums and favellas.
The spread of this virus is reminding us again just how interconnected the human family really is. We are unique in that the Depaul family is similarly connected in order to respond to need at a local and global level.
5. In January 2020 you participated in the Rome meeting of all the Branches of the Vincentian Family: after almost a year what do you keep of that meeting?
From that meeting I always reflect on the enthusiasm, creativity and resilience of the many
Vincentians that work on the ground. They go out to the poor and have found inspiring ways to help more people, to bring innovation to the most unlikely environments, and continuously change lives for the better. I want to elevate that expertise at grassroots level and continue to utilise their knowledge to inform new projects, best practice approaches and advocacy.
As Vincentians, we also know that beyond addressing the urgent and immediate needs of homeless people, we have to address the root causes of this injustice if we want to achieve systemic change. This is something both I and all members of the Vincentian family will strive towards.
I am truly excited about the path that lies ahead and about the work that will be done in service of the poor in the coming weeks, months and years despite all the challenges we face. As a Vincentian Family we are much stronger together than when we work alone
6. Do you have a motto or a phrase that characterizes you?
There are so many that I could consider, but one that springs to mind is a phrase used by St. Vincent de Paul himself – “Totum opus nostrum in operatione consistit. Action is our entire task.”