Vincentian View: Homelessness


Fr. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Special to the Torch

Biennially, that is, once every two years, St. John’s runs a “Poverty Conference.”

This conference invites a discussion on an important situation in our society which impacts upon those who are poor and marginalized. In the past few years, we have dealt with issues like human trafficking, ecology and education.

This year, we are taking up the question of homelessness.  

One does not have to spend too much time in any major city — and lots of other cities — to see the problem of homelessness expressed in flesh and blood. New York City is a prime example.  Individuals and families without a regular residence can be seen in whatever direction one chooses to look, and sometimes chooses not to look. It is one of the most concerning issues of our time for our cities and it has lots of causes.  

At the Poverty Conference organized by the Vincentian Research Fellows and the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, three presentations will be made by three people intimately familiar with the different faces of homelessness.

Jim White is the Executive Director of Covenant House New Jersey. Covenant House, as we know, pays particular attention to the young people who have been and could be living on the street.

Mr. White will discuss with us the many reasons why young men and women are homeless in our cities, the complications which arise from that situation and the kind of imperfect but compassionate solutions which are offered by Covenant House. For a University Community, this presentation could have significant interest and application.

Lee Stringer is the author of two well-received books: “Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street” and “Sleepaway School.” Mr. Stringer lived homeless and crack-addicted on the streets of New York for more than a decade.

He brings the personal experience of someone who knows the reality of being without family or support, learning to survive day-to-day. For a University which rests in the middle of a big city and which seeks to make some difference in the lives of people who are marginalized in that city, Mr. Stringer has a potent message and some recommendations.

Finally, Rosanne Haggerty will present. She is the president and chief executive officer of Community Solutions. Ms. Haggerty is a widely regarded expert on homelessness and finding means of overcoming this problem through working with communities.

She has frequently been identified by her dealing successfully with this issue in a 20 square block area around Times Square in New York City. One of her innovative suggestions for dealing with this reality was by talking to the homeless themselves and learning directly what kept them in their current condition.

It is an approach which would appeal to Vincent de Paul.  

Thus, three experts with a variety of experiences will be on our campus to share their insights and wisdom about homelessness. It offers to our community a rare opportunity to learn from those who have spent a great deal of time in this ministry. How much encouragement will be offered to us to respond to Matt 25:35, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me!”