As my first full calendar year as CEO draws to a close, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on what has unquestionably been a year like no other, and to express my deepest gratitude to all who have made our work this year possible. With the pandemic seemingly behind us, we looked to 2022 with renewed optimism – little did we know what lay head.
My first visit to Ukraine will stay with me forever. In times of crisis, it is always incredible to witness how communities and individuals come together to play such a pivotal part in helping those around them. During my visits, I have met the most extraordinary and dedicated group of staff and volunteers, all willing to risk their lives for others. Alongside looking after their own families, they continue to provide the most phenomenal care for those in need. The volume and quality of services they are providing is astonishing – from trauma counselling to activities for children, thriving day centres, medical care, hot food, heating, and so much more.
I also had the privilege of meeting people living on the front lines, who have lost those they loved, their homes and livelihoods, and endured suffering we can scarcely imagine – yet somehow remain positive and hopeful that the war will soon end. In the basement-turned-bomb-shelter that so many children now call home, excited chatter and smiling faces can still be seen and heard as children prepare to celebrate Christmas.
Over the course of my career, I have been a vocal international advocate for supporting, serving, and working with local communities, led by local people, during times of crisis. It is such a privilege to see the Depaul Ukraine team adopting this approach whole-heartedly. But then, that is the Depaul way. I have always had huge admiration for how Depaul’s people live and breathe their Vincentian values. As I’ve travelled to projects throughout this year, it’s been wonderful to see these values being played out, day in, day out across our subsidiaries and the incredible front-line services they provide.
We are devastated by what is happening in Ukraine and the impact this is having on our friends, colleagues, and the Ukrainian people, yet as a group, we still have so much to be thankful for. On a recent trip to Dublin, where we celebrated 20 years of Depaul Ireland, I talked to staff who are working with extremely vulnerable and marginalised people. Their resilience and dedication to helping people with such extreme needs is extraordinary. What an amazing impact Depaul Ireland has had over the past 20 years, we are excited to see what the next 20 will bring.
Depaul France is absolute testimony to what a group of committed people can achieve and a perfect example of our values in action. The Mobil’Douche is proving to be such a vital service, we have big ambitions for growth if funds permit. An independent social impact study proved what we already knew, that our Paris-based day centre makes an enormous difference in people’s lives. The report highlighted four powerful impacts including the reduction of isolation, increased wellbeing, particularly for people experiencing the most difficulties, and improved dignity, with one day centre attendee sharing how he feels ‘treated like a man’, regardless of ‘how homeless he is.’
It’s also been a very busy year for Depaul USA whose extraordinary achievements include expansion into Kansas, its ninth state, growing the number of Dax houses provided for students at risk of homelessness, and celebrating the opening of the new day centre, Casa Milagrosa, which provides a homely and welcoming environment for the increasing number of people in need in LA. 2023 looks to be equally exciting with further expansion planned.
Our Slovakian team has been instrumental to our response efforts in Ukraine, serving as a vital logistics hub for the distribution of more than 1,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid. At the same time, their own programmes have gone from strength to strength, with this month’s opening of a new and improved high-dependency shelter in central Bratislava and work underway to develop a number of other smaller shelters to accommodate the growing numbers of people in need of their support. The team continue to demonstrate such humanity, with their living storybook project this summer highlighting the human being behind the homeless person, and their recent concert giving homeless people a rare opportunity to experience a joyful event in a welcoming environment.
Earlier this summer, I stood with Sr. Veronika on the beautiful piece of land we hope will one day become Depaul Village, Croatia. We inch ever closer to our vision as we navigate the red tape and funding challenges. Responsive as ever to emerging need, the Depaul Croatia team is supporting the increasing number of migrants passing through Rijeka in search of safety. These people are living in appalling conditions close to the city’s train station. Work is already underway to determine what more we can do to help.
My first visit to see Depaul UK’s work earlier this year has also stayed with me. Visiting the Kaleidoscope project, and meeting the incredible team of Depaul UK staff supporting young people who have suffered severe trauma due to homelessness, was deeply moving. Their outreach programmes in and around Newcastle upon Tyne and their programmes supporting young teenage mothers have such a transformative impact on young people’s lives. I left energised and inspired.
It’s been a good year for members of the wider Depaul Group, too. Last month, I was honoured to join the Famvin Homeless Alliance team at the Vatican where the Pope blessed a life-size bronze sculpture conceived to shine a spotlight on global homelessness and encourage practical solutions in keeping with the mission of the 13 Houses Campaign. While in Chicago, the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness, co-founded by Depaul International, welcomed its first country, Uruguay, to the Vanguard Program which sees participants commit to end, or significantly reduce, street homelessness. The Vanguard network and its impact continues to grow at pace.
Understandably, Ukraine has dominated much of our focus during 2022, but Depaul has been fighting homelessness – one of the most severe expressions of social inequality, poverty and exclusion – for over 30 years. The need for this important work hasn’t stopped just because a new crisis has started. So, while we will continue to play a significant role in helping the people of Ukraine, our commitment to achieving a future where everyone in the world has a place to call home, is unwavering.
We know that 2023 will be tough. The number of homeless people turning to our subsidiaries continues to grow. The cost of living crisis has seen the number of people at risk of homelessness rise exponentially and the costs of running our services soar, at exactly the time when donors are tightening their belts. And sadly, the war in Ukraine shows no sign of abating.
2022 really has been a year like no other. For me, the way the whole Depaul Group rallied around their Ukrainian colleagues, the incredible support we have received from our Vincentian family, and the generosity of friends old and new, personifies the true spirit of Christmas. We are eternally grateful to you, and all the other people and organisations who stood shoulder to shoulder with us this year. I hope we can rely on your continued friendship as we move into 2023 as we have never needed you more.
From our family to yours, we wish you all the very best for the new year.
With very best wishes,
Group CEO Depaul International