The 1Matters project "Tent City" celebrated its 25th anniversary last month.

Our shared obligation to ensure everyone has a home

By 
  • November 10, 2014

Imagine for a moment that you have no home. 

What would you do for meals today? Where would you shower? Where would you sleep? If you have children, how would you provide for them? 

And how would you cope if you were homeless tomorrow, next week, next month? 

Last winter I took imagining what it would be like to be homeless one step further. I lived one day in Baltimore as a homeless man trying to stay warm and fed. From street, to soup kitchen, to shelter I ventured.

I learned a lot that day about how rough it is to have no place to call your own. But later that night my experience as a homeless person ended. I got in my vehicle and headed for home. 

The UN Commission on Human Rights reports that 100 million people worldwide have no home to go to each night. For them, ongoing homelessness is a hard, sad reality.   

In Canada, approximately 30,000 people experience homelessness on any given night, according to the report “The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013.” 

Issued by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the report also estimates that on any given night an additional 50,000 individuals may be “hidden homeless” — people with no permanent residence who are temporarily staying with relatives, friends or others.   

The authors of the report conclude: “We do know that the homelessness crisis was created through drastically reduced investments in affordable and social housing in the 1990s, shifts in income supports and the declining spending power of almost half of the population since that time. Currently many Canadians are at risk of homelessness because of the high cost (and unavailability) of housing, inadequate incomes and family violence. The good news is that if we understand the causes of homelessness, we can do something about it.”

Recently I spoke with Ken Leslie, a former homeless alcoholic and drug addict, who is doing something about it. Based in Toledo, Ohio, Leslie founded 1Matters (www.1matters.org), an organization inviting each of us to “Be 1 that matters to 1 that matters.”

As their motto indicates, one-on-one relationships help break down homeless stereotypes and build community. The message is relevant wherever homelessness occurs.

One major stereotype is the word “homeless” itself. Because the word “homeless” often conjures up negative images of people — which in most cases are completely inaccurate — Leslie prefers using the word “unhoused.” 

A model project of 1Matters is “Tent City.” Every year on the last weekend of October, Tent City brings together doctors, nurses, medical students, social workers and over 500 other caring souls to serve the unhoused.

Last month, Tent City celebrated its 25th anniversary. On Toledo’s Civic Centre Mall, under several tents, approximately 1,000 unhoused and marginally housed people received medical treatment, prescriptions, job and housing assistance, I.D. acquisition, haircuts, food, clothing, commitment to follow-up care and lots of love. 

To watch an inspiring video on Tent City go to www.1matters.org/tentcity. And then kindly consider how a Tent City could be started in your town or city. You can contact Ken Leslie for assistance at ken@1matters.org

The social doctrine of the Catholic Church clearly teaches that safe, decent housing is a basic human right. And that individuals, governments and society in general have a moral obligation to help end homelessness.

In the spirit of the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who help the unhoused, for they shall find a home in heaven.

(Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

As Catholics, we must remember that we are called to have, as Pope Benedict XVI says, a preferential option for the poor. This is a wonderful article and it seems Tent City is doing God's work! Thank you for writing on this important topic!

Tess Babcock
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