What are the three actions that communities can take to end homelessness? A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ) sought an answer to this question at its second Boston Community Meeting on December 19th. According to Rosanne Haggerty, president and CEO of Community Solutions in New York City, communities must know homeless individuals by name and know their specific circumstances. Successful communities adopt a “command center” approach to solving homelessness as they do for coping with natural disasters. Finally, communities need data in real time in order to learn what actions are effective and those that are not. Haggerty, formerly a McArthur Foundation fellow, was interviewed by Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, the Secretary of Social Services of the Archdiocese of Boston.
AFTDJ is an ecumenical nonprofit working to move people to action in confronting injustices in the United States. Its goal is to create solidarity among people who very often have little contact in contemporary society – those with wealth, education, and privilege and those who are living in poverty and in threatened communities. Its Community Meetings help educate participants in the challenges facing vulnerable populations and the ways to improve those circumstances.
An estimated 200 attendees – including representatives from Boston Health Care for the Homeless, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, the City of Boston, and several faith traditions – were at the Community Meeting that was held in Boston at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Ms. Haggerty recounted her journey from being a developer of supportive housing to becoming a community leader using a systems based approach to ending homelessness. She believes that communities can solve the problem of homelessness if they do so holistically. This means breaking down the siloes among the multiple public and private agencies providing programs for the homeless and engaging all members of the community as part of the process.
The meeting also featured a first-person testimonial from Becca, who first became homeless at the age of 15 after her mother became gravely ill and her father took his own life while in the grips of addiction. Becca described being left to her own devices to find shelter, even though she was a minor. She described her ordeal as a “failure of the system.” Eventually, after being hospitalized for an eating disorder, she received support from Bridge Over Troubled Waters in Boston. She is now housed, working and attending school.
AFTDJ was formed in San Diego, where Fr. Peter Gyves, SJ MD, brought together English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities to share experiences and concerns about the direction the country was taking. Fr. Peter moved the program to Boston last year and expanded its mission. In addition to holding workshops, which bring vulnerable populations and long-time Boston residents together, AFTDJ hosts Community Meetings on topics that impact vulnerable populations, such as immigration and homelessness. AFTDJ will hold its next Community Meeting in March 2018. If you are interested in learning more about its work, visit their Website, Like them at Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.