At a session at the United Nations titled “Ending Homelessness to Eradicate Poverty,” two homeless people, a woman and a man, told of the experience of homelessness in New York City… The deprivation of sleep, the reluctance to drink water to avoid the need for a restroom, the cold, the heat, the lack of good nourishment, and then, being shunned, ignored, dehumanized, and branded as addicted, mentally ill, lazy, crazy, and incompetent.
What many do not realize is that many homeless in NYC are middle class, educated people from stable homes who once held responsible jobs. Then, circumstances changed – economic downturn, loss of jobs, break-up of relationships – forcing them out of their homes or leaving them with no option but to move to the streets.
One of the homeless persons enumerated problems with the Shelter System: most are based on an old model of social services providing the homeless with starch-heavy diets without proper exercise, lots of TV, outdated links to employment and job training, and medication through inadequate mental health services. Sometimes the only way to get help is to declare yourself mentally ill, receive medication, attend job training, and get a job for $7.25 an hour – but even then, you cannot survive on that wage in NYC.
The speakers encouraged the audience to help shift the negative perception of homeless people to a perception of the homeless as resilient and smart. There is a need for up-to-date job training and job search assistance, exercise programs, and lessons on holistic living. “Include them in programmatic decisions” the speakers urged: “Don’t talk about us, without us.”
In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), everyone has a right to adequate housing – safe and secure to live in peace and dignity – and a right to water, sanitation, and hygiene. The Vincentian Family (the Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, Vincentian priests & brothers, Society of St. Vincent de Paul) are building homes worldwide and have developed the Famvin Homeless Alliance, an initiative of the Worldwide Vincentian Family to reduce, and wherever possible, eliminate homelessness in its multiple forms. Because there is such a shortage of adequate housing, some cities and communities are building and subsidizing low-cost housing. There are creative ideas such as housing for artists and co-housing.
Is your neighborhood or city doing something to help the homeless and provide affordable housing? Let us know in the comments!
This event was held at the UN on January 31, 2018 and sponsored by the Vincentian Family and the Permanent Mission of Ireland.