Jim Claffey is the representative of the Congregation of the Mission NGO to the United Nations. His writes on issues of concern to the Vincentians that are addressed at the UN level.  

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions, a common practice and a good one if it focuses our energy and determination towards valuable goals. But it is also a practice that can make us laugh—or cry—six months later upon review of how well we’ve done with them!

There are lots of resolutions at the United Nations, documents upon documents about justice and peace, human rights, equitable development, and protection of those less fortunate. How much of it is real? How many resolutions actually matter?

They only do if they make it into national policies, i.e. from UN pronouncement to Member State policy and practice.

One historic resolution, achieved by the Vincentian Family NGOs and allies through persistent effort over four years, establishes homelessness as a stand-alone issue.  Previously lumped in as one aspect of poverty, homelessness is now seen by the UN as its own issue, to be addressed as such.

General Assembly Resolution 76/133 (16 December 2021) reiterates that the eradication of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, in particular as they affect people experiencing and at risk of homelessness and other people in vulnerable situations, is crucial for the advancement of global sustainable development.

This means something; this matters. The Secretary General must report this year on what the UN has done to reduce homelessness, and countries submitting Volunteer National Reviews in 2023 are to include this issue in their reports.

We will soon see at least glimpses of the impact of the resolution in these reports.

We know how to end homelessness. Although complex, it is not an unsolvable problem. Studies consistently show that the majority of people stay out of homelessness when they have access to permanent housing they can afford. So, housing first, with appropriate support services.

Since the “Vincentian Question” always is “What must be done?” what can we do to address homelessness:

  • Feel some of the Pope’s indignation that “we can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing” (2015 visit to D.C.);
  • Educate ourselves on the real causes, structural and circumstantial, of homelessness, the actual drivers of it, not the hype built around the exceptions (“they like sleeping on the street,” “they don’t want housing,” “they’re all drug addicts,” “they’re too unstable”). Perhaps a minimum to require of ourselves as Christians and Vincentians is to be informed and willing to challenge our own biases about people experiencing homelessness;
  • Follow Fr. Mike Carroll’s reflections on the topic in the pages of famvin.org/news;
  • Learn to think systemically: see the connections between social policy issues and government funding/priorities, etc… Understand that homelessness is mostly a policy decision;
  • Advocate locally for affordable housing. Solutions are local, and mayors must be the real leaders on the issue. Reject NIMBYism. Do not vote for a candidate who will not pledge to work on the issue, then later not vote for those who so pledge but do nothing;
  • Support the FAMVIN Homeless Alliance, the unique common project of the Vincentian family, and its remarkable success to date: 93 projects in 30 countries, 2,329 houses acquired, 8,697 people helped. We can do this!