By Sr. Carol De Angelo
No room in the inn. The Christmas Posada, a tradition in many Spanish speaking countries during the Christmas Season, reenacts the story of Joseph seeking shelter for Mary about to give birth to Jesus. At each place Joseph and Mary meet with the refrain, no room in the inn. How might we, people of faith, change the Posada Story, change the narrative of no room in the inn, to a story where affordable safe accessible housing is a reality for everyone? There is no simple solution to “solving the problem”.
What Joseph and Mary faced at the birth of Jesus hundreds of millions of people around the world face each day. Thus, the refrain, no room in the inn, was on my mind this Christmas season as I recalled an October conversation with Marc Greenburg (Executive Director of Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing) that initiated follow up conversations with three other people of faith with varied experiences of accompanying unhoused persons. Focus of our conversation was the call and power of people of faith towelcome persons without homes. The seed was planted and watered! The Wednesday, January 25th online conversation, People of Faith Welcoming Persons Without Homes was planned!
Marc Greenberg and James Addison, Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates (LEFSA), Pietro Bartoli, Sant’Egidio, and Tom Dobbins (UN NGO Working Group to End Homelessness co-chair and Director of Social and Parish Engagement, NY Archdiocese Catholic Charities) agreed to be on a panel to share the call of people of faith to respect, welcome and accompany unhoused persons. Part of their conversation will address ways people of faith can accompany persons without homes, end homelessness, and advocate for affordable accessible safe housing. If interested in joining this 1:30 pm ET January 25th online conversation, click here to register.
Today’s laws, policies, structures, bureaucracy, corporate power and so much more, make homelessness and affordable housing complex issues. Yet as people of faith, we need to face complacency, feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless, and accept Jesus’ message … of God’s unconditional love, that we are brothers and sisters to each other, and that the power of God’s love is at work within and among us helping us to love in attitude, word and action.
Several years ago, I was speaking to a colleague who had been unhoused for several years. He sensitized me to how it felt to be called “homeless”. He said that people don’t look you in the eye, or even say hello. They just pass you by and you feel worthless. So, I began to use the phrase “person who is homeless”, thinking this was better. Over these past months, I have begun to use “persons without homes”. I “see” the person in a new way when I think of her or him having no place to call home nor a place to feel “at home”. Connecting “no home” with the person reminds me of the enormous changes and challenges she or he face. Each action or stepwe take, no matter how small, makes a difference. We can welcome with respect, dignity and compassion the person or the family without a home into our heart, into our prayer, into our communities. We can use whatever gift we are given to create change for the better. Faith communities working together have the power to change narratives about housing and homelessness. As people of faith we are empowered to love as Jesus loved.
Change the Narrative
To change the narrative, be aware and informed. Learn about groups and organizations who accompany unhoused persons with respect and compassion. Learn more about those living in unsafe, unaffordable housing, those who are on the streets, in shelters and on couches of friends and family. Be like Mary. Don’t look away. Ponder in your heart as Mary did, the feelings and thoughts that you and others have. Let God speak to you / to us in these ponderings, even if like Elijah the word of God comes like a whisper and not in a strong wind! Share information, questions, and ponderings with a friend, a parishioner, a faith group. Pray, alone or together. Seek to know how to respond and advocate… be it as a volunteer, a pray-er, or perhaps in another way. No one size fits all. If interested in exploring further how you or a faith group you belong to can “welcome persons without homes”, email Marc Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation.
Resources for those who wish to delve deeper
Governor Hochul will deliver State of the State address on January 10th in Albany. One of the issues she will speak to is housing. Keep attuned to what the governor says. Visit the website of New York State Council of Churches (NYSCOC). Learn about and keep updated on their February 27th and 28th Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Albany which will focus on housing and immigration. Visit website of Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and read their newsletter or sign up to receive information and email alerts. The Interfaith Center of New York’s December 15, 2022 40th Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Retreat for Social Justice, Housing Now: Faith Communities’ Call to Action gathered people of faith to discuss ways to respond to the growing housing crisis. Click here to see the overview of the retreat day, speakers, and workshops. Click here for the informative Housing Now toolkit.
The NYSCOC December 16, 2022 webinar on affordable housing has valuable information. Click here to watch. Skip to what interests you. Some of the panelists included: Rachel Fee, Executive Director, New York Housing Conference, Laura Harding, Executive Director, ERASE Racism, Long Island, Malika Conner, Director of Organizing, Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Charles King, Executive Director, Executive Director, Housing Works. Right to Counsel NYC section which the Sisters of Charity advocated for is about 30 minutes into the webinar; and good cause eviction and social housing is 38 minutes into the webinar. If you wish to know more about the Interfaith Voucher Support Project, click here to view the December 20th webinar, No Room in the Inn? A Conversation About Housing Vouchers and click here to read purpose.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Reportissued a year ago found 582,462 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022. The United Nations Human Settlements Program estimates that 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing, and the best data available suggest that more than 100 million people have no housing at all. Click here to read about the Institute of Global Homelessness. As people of faith, we ponder as Mary did. With Mary, we pray to be open to welcome our unhoused brothers and sisters in our hearts, in our lives, in our communities.