Jim Claffey, NGO Representative of the Congregation of the Mission to United Nations, writes about issues from the U.N. relevant to the Vincentians and their mission around the world.

Quickly, name an advocacy/service project in 2024 whose roots go way back to the 17th century.

If you guessed homelessness, you’re probably a Vincentian, i.e. a member or associate of one of the 225 groups in 150 countries that claim St. Vincent de Paul as patron, founder or inspiration.

Homelessness ranked high on Vincent’s agenda. The following is the story of a contemporary effort to end homelessness by followers of Vincent de Paul, the remarkable story of a strikingly successful project. Consider this: in only six years, from 2018 to 2023, the FAMVIN Homeless Alliance (FHA) has provided over 10,000 formerly homeless people with secure housing and access to other support services. 

Current Statistics (June 2024)

  • 68 Countries
  • 108 Projects
  • 2,523 Houses
  • 10,256 People Helped

The Historical Inspiration: One of St. Vincent’s many creative responses to the plight of poor people in his time involved the use of money bequeathed to him in a royal will to acquire 13 houses for abandoned children. Using sharp business skills, Vincent rented the houses to the Ladies of Charity (AIC), then used the rent proceeds for the missions. The   Daughters of Charity cared for and educated the children. St. Vincent also arranged housing for refugees pouring into Paris and victims of war, famine, and the plague, as well as others living on the streets, which also involved feeding at times thousands of people.

Vincent’s “13 houses” became the metaphor for today’s project to transform the lives of at least 10,000 people experiencing homelessness in as many countries as possible to works towards eliminating homelessness.

FHA’s focus on the homeless has three dimensions:

  • People without accommodations—street sleepers
  • People living in temporary accommodations—refugee camps, the internally displaced
  • People living in inadequate/insecure housing—slums, hostels

The 400th Anniversary: In 2017, with the theme “Welcoming the Stranger,” the Vincentian Family celebrated the 400 years of Vincentian charism to serve the poor by launching a global initiative to address homelessness. Inspired by the Gospel text, “When I was a stranger you welcomed me” (Matthew 25), and by Vincent’s words, “We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others,” the FHA was entrusted with the megaproject, the unique common project of the entire Family from July 1, 2017, until 2025.

Collaboration is the key to the success of any major project, and the FHA has been particularly focused on increasing the collaboration needed to eliminate the deeply entrenched social problem that is homelessness. Twenty-five branches of the Family have been especially involved, and the success achieved so far exemplifies the power of collaboration.

The United Nations Connection: As a global project, 2025 was chosen to coincide with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for People and the Planet, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to put the world on a path towards greater prosperity and peace for everyone.

This Agenda, approved by 193 Member States of the UN, is ambitious and frankly off track at this time. The Vincentian Family remains especially focused on the advancement of three of the SDGs: No Poverty (Goal 1), Sustainable Cities and Communities (#11), and Reduced Inequality (#10).

FHA Initiatives: Besides hosting international conferences on street homelessness, refugees, and persons trapped in slums, FHA is planning to offer a global scholarship fund for 50 young slum dwellers from different communities worldwide up to the graduate level. As it continues to expand, FHA has been incorporating discussions of climate change and resultant displacement, the great moral and existential challenge of our time, as well as gender and women-focused themes, because women and girls regularly suffer the most with any social ill.

FHA attempts to bring to bear a holistic approach to the project, ensuring that all dimensions of poverty and marginalization are addressed.  And it does so with a systemic change mentality, seeking the root causes of homelessness, and involving persons experiencing homelessness in every phase of the project. More than victims, they are potential protagonists and their voice and participation are critical to create lasting sustainable change.

The Jubilee Year 2025: “Hope Does Not Disappoint” is the inspiring theme of the upcoming special year in the Church. FHA is deep into planning to associate its efforts with Pope Francis’s call for tangible signs of hope, positioning itself as an active pilgrim of hope by continuing the expansion beyond 13 houses and 13 countries and by proving that homelessness is not a necessary evil but a difficult issue that humanity can solve.

Closing: To have a home is a human right. To have a decent home is to have dignity and a sense of worth. Having a home is key to the circle of life and its demands of job and income, health, and education. To have a home is to have opportunity. Having a home is fundamental to achieve Pope Francis’s imperative of the three L’s: land, labor, and lodging.

FHA is trying to make that happen for as many as possible. Let’s end homelessness. It can be done. We can all join the effort in different ways by searching for local FHA projects, or by donating, collaborating, spreading the word, following FamVin Homeless Alliance on Twitter/X, Facebook, and Instagram, or by emailing:  fha.info@famvin.org.