Changing Times – February 2020

Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing is a Human Right

The issue of the need for safe, secure and affordable housing and how it is a major contributor to homelessness is a global one and one that  numerous organizations are addressing. One question that is asked of us is why the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul should get involved when there is already so much being done. The fact that this is a human rights issue should be enough to validate our decision to be involved. How can we stand by when we see the effect that inadequate housing and homelessness has on the human dignity of so many people? How can we remain truly committed to our Vincentian charism if we do not act?

It is interesting how much of a global concern housing and homelessness are for the Vincentian family. The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) was founded in 2014 as a joint initiative of DePaul University and DePaul International. Its focus is on homelessness, with an emphasis on those who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. IGH, as a valued member of the Vincentian family, has four strategies:

  1. Support Leadership: This program identifies, equips and connects a network of diverse leaders in their efforts to end street homelessness.
  2. Exchange Knowledge: Actively disseminate best practices and policy solutions proven to address street homelessness effectively.
  3. Create a Global Infrastructure: Promote a shared definition of homelessness, urge assessment, connect and support international campaigns, and foster joint action.
  4. Advocate for Change: Advocate internationally for people experiencing street homelessness and the global agencies that serve them.

The Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) is another global Vincentian movement rooted in the spirituality and example of Saint Vincent de Paul. This branch of the family started in 2017 to mark the 400th anniversary of our Vincentian charism. The FHA aims to:

  1. Make a real and sustainable difference in the lives of homeless people globally.
  2. Build a strong network between Vincentian groups working on homeless issues.
  3. Support and develop existing and emerging leaders.
  4. Encourage the growth of new services and reflection on our collective Vincentian experiences.
  5. Advocate for structural change in support of homeless people at national, regional and global levels.
  6. Develop and make available formation materials in support of this initiative with respect to Vincentian spiritualty.

Finally, the United Nations has now formed the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH), which is comprised of several NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations). There are several members of the Vincentian family in the WGEH including the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The chair of the WGEH is a Vincentian priest.

As you can see, the Vincentian family is very active regarding homelessness, which, in many cases, is a direct result of the lack of safe, secure and affordable housing. I believe there is no more important factor that contributes to so many people in Canada living in poverty than the failure of governments and society to address the reasons why every person and family does not have a place to call home. The importance of having a place to call home, to raise a family in, or to simply feel safe and secure is likely the best example of how we can give every human being a sense of dignity, self-respect and solidarity with their fellow Canadians.

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul’s national housing campaign provides every Vincentian with the opportunity to make a difference in the housing/homelessness crisis we face today here in Canada, as well as globally. I would urge and encourage every council and conference to consider how they may join this campaign at the national, regional or local municipal level.  Please take the time to read any available resource material and consider ways you can be part of this important campaign. Educate yourself, your fellow members and parishioners about the issues. Advocate with and on behalf of our neighbours in need to your MP, MPP, or local councillors. Examine what your community now does or doesn’t do to address the housing/homelessness crisis and look at ways your council/conference may be able to address any gaps or failures in services. Help us by gathering local stories from your neighbours in need about how the lack of proper housing has affected them and their families.

Please pray for a productive and successful housing campaign that will make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve as well as in ours.

Jim Paddon, Chair
National Social Justice Committee