By Lisa Tepper Bates, Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness
“We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head.”
Pope Francis spoke these words on September 24, at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C., before sitting down to lunch with the homeless in our nation’s Capital. He chose that luncheon over the opportunity to dine with Congressional leaders. In speaking directly to the Christian mandate to house the homeless and in choosing to spend his own time in service to them, Pope Francis challenges us all (Christian and non-Christian alike) to examine what we are doing to shape the response of our communities and our nation in the face of this social issue.
In Connecticut, and across the nation, we have much to be proud of, as we steadily advance toward our goal of ending homelessness. Indeed, there is good news to share: Connecticut’s 2015 annual census of homelessness, the Point-in-Time Count, showed the lowest number of homeless people since this annual count began in our state in 2007.
In August, Connecticut become the first state in the nation to end chronic homelessness (long-term or repeated homeless of people with severe disabilities) among veterans, and we are on track to end the homelessness of all veterans by the end of this year.
We are also on track through our efforts in the national Zero: 2016 campaign to end chronic homelessness among all populations across Connecticut by December, 2016 (as proof of this progress, note that this number dropped by 20% since 2014). But even with all this good news, too many remain homeless right now in our state. Men, women, and children, who have no place to lay their head tonight other than a shelter.
So what does it take to build on Connecticut’s great progress to push to the finish line and end all homelessness?
We have in the administration of Governor Malloy a tremendous partner, investing in housing and services to end homelessness. We have committed and hard-working nonprofits that provide emergency shelter, housing, and supports in close coordination with our state agency partners. We have shelters and other critical supports offered by our faith communities to help bolster the safety net available for those in need. To this strong coalition of state government, nonprofits, and faith communities, we need to add the strength of our communities. Homelessness is a community problem, and it takes many partners working together to address the needs of our neighbors before they become homeless, as well as to end their homelessness permanently by helping them secure and maintain permanent housing.
Pope Francis has challenged us to recognize our shared humanity—challenged us to love one another as God loves us. What if everyone in Connecticut responded to that challenge (or responded to the voice of his or her own conscience) by finding a small way to support the work to end homelessness? This could be through volunteering at a local shelter. It could be through contributing to our statewide fund to prevent family homelessness. Or it could be through connecting with someone in need at a soup kitchen to offer friendship and support on his or her journey to secure housing. If we all hear that call, and take up the challenge to respond to the needs of those with the least among us, we can end all homelessness in Connecticut. It is achievable.