With the United Nations still operating under pandemic restrictions making grounds passes unavailable, I find it increasingly difficult to remain engaged. We are all Zoom weary, longing for our old ways of meeting in person, reading the body language of our colleagues, catching the eye of another committee member across a board table or meeting room. How easy it would be to say, “Let’s put everything on hold until grounds passes are issued again, and we can meet face to face.”
Then I step away from my computer, and out of my comfortable, air-conditioned apartment on to the steamy streets of New York City, where I am quickly reminded of what we are being called to do, and the urgency of that call.
Homelessness is on the rise in New York, as it is globally. As the pandemic spread throughout the world the number of people without homes has grown exponentially. People already living on the margins have lost jobs forcing them to leave their homes. As members of the Vincentian Family, we are called to support our sisters and brothers in times of crisis and need, we do this through direct service.
The Vincentian Family at the UN has a dual calling, so to speak. We are asked to serve in not only direct service, but also as the voice of those we serve, by bringing their concerns to the leaders of Member States.
At a recent meeting of the Working Group to End Homelessness, which was founded by the Vincentian Family at UN several years ago, we were honored by the presence of Professor Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on Right to Food 2008-2014.
Professor De Schutter spoke about an ongoing project he is leading in which they are attempting a global count of people living without homes of their own. He plans to count all forms of homelessness, including street homelessness as well as “couch surfers” and families that have been forced to share accommodations. One of the frustrations for all of us is the ability to obtain a reliable count. Some countries are ashamed of their homeless population, even going so far as to deny the very existence homeless people.
Professor Schutter’s research will be vital information for those working to alleviate global homelessness. Without accurate numbers it is impossible to bring the situation to the member states, asking them to address homelessness in their own county.
As Vincentians we meet those we serve in their homes, including those currently experiencing homelessness, we are called to meet them in shelters as well as on the street, “rough sleepers” as the Irish refer to it.
I am reminded of a couple I visited several times with my friend, Fr. Ron Ramson, CM. Fr. Ron and I came across a couple in their 60’s living on the street near St. Patrick’s Cathedral with their beloved and very well cared for dog. This couple appeared to be average, middle class folks, intelligent, and well spoken. Somewhere along the way they lost their home and found themselves sleeping on the street. They were unable to go to a shelter because of their dog. After visiting with them for several months they were displaced from their space on the sidewalk by new construction. I am sorry to say, I do not know where they are now. I pray they have found a permanent home and are happy and safe.
The voice of experience is important to the Vincentian Family. Our mantra is, “Don’t talk about us without us.” We have invited people with experience to join us as members of the Working Group, to speak at UN Side Events, and to serve as committee members. Only by listening to the voices of experience will we be able to understand the issue at a deeper level.
The Vincentian Family at the UN strives also to bring the voice of people living in poverty to the member states by speaking on their behalf whenever possible.
While the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, have no specific mention of homelessness, or housing stability, several goals touch on the issue such as:
Goal 1, No Poverty
Goal 2, Zero Hunger
Goal 3, Good Health and Wellbeing,
Goal 4, Education
Goal 5, Gender Equality
Goal 6, Clean Water & Sanitation
Goal 11, Sustainable Cities & Communities
Clearly the SDGs cannot be achieved without housing stability. Without a stable living environment, a child will struggle with their education, not reaching their full potential. Continuing an ongoing cycle of poverty, from generation to generation.
We will continue working for those in need, bringing them to the UN, when possible, to speak for themselves, or to speak on their behalf, when necessary, as we work to alleviate homelessness in ALL manifestations.
Pattie Hughes, SSVP at the United Nations