As most of my friends know, I am a long-time friend and supporter of the Night Ministry – an organization that provides food, shelter, medical services, and emotional support for the homeless population of Chicagoland.
Below is the email I received as a Night Ministry supporter several days ago. I have nothing to add to it, except of now, since the president is going to deny a health coverage for millions of people … time for another post, but first – email.
Throughout life, we define who we are as individuals and as a society. We question our values and beliefs – the foundations of our motivation to behave in certain ways – clarify them, change them, and reaffirm them. Our individual lives and communal stories are full of moments when we bear witness to or participate in events that make us question our values and beliefs and then possibly adjust them. Some moments are so contrary to what we hold dear that our values and beliefs come into much sharper focus and shape who we are.
The Night Ministry and those who care about the homeless are experiencing such a moment. The foundational values that motivate our work are being questioned and brought into sharp focus. In fact, our Nation is having such a moment.
The news has recently reported on homelessness in large cities, with an emphasis on the West Coast. The extraordinary number of people experiencing homelessness in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., has been the target of comments made by senior government officials.
These comments and the values on which they are based are opposite of those held by The Night Ministry and those who support our mission to provide housing, health care, and human connection to the poor and homeless.
The Administration has discussed rounding up those who live on the streets and placing them in government-run facilities to live and to receive their health care. At the same time, it has denied California the funds needed to create affordable housing and provide shelters for those experiencing homelessness. We are told that there are enough shelter beds for everyone and that deregulating housing policies will result in more affordable housing.
In the last six months, the Administration also has proposed new rules that have the potential to increase homelessness. For example, a new rule would prevent families that include an undocumented member from living together in public or subsidized housing. Families like this would face the painful choice to either become homeless or force the undocumented individual to move out.
Another upcoming proposal would overturn 2016 protections for transgender individuals who need shelter or supportive housing, by allowing organizations who operate those programs to deny them housing and services that conform to their gender identity.
Young families and transgender individuals are two groups disproportionally represented amongst the population of those experiencing homelessness. Why create rules that could increase the rate at which they are homeless?
When coupled with recent comments and threats from the Administration, the proposed rule changes act as a mirror into which we must look and ask, “Are the values and beliefs they represent those that I hold dear?
For The Night Ministry, the answer is “No.” As we look into that mirror, our beliefs and values are brought into sharp focus and reaffirmed with vigor. We must declare that we differ. We can neither embrace nor support the beliefs and values that are the foundation for such policies and comments.
It is not a matter of politics, of left and right, of Republican or Democrat. It is a matter of humanity.
At The Night Ministry we are motivated by the belief that:
- Homelessness is not a choice.
- Everyone deserves access to the resources they need to fulfill their human potential.
- Our system for addressing the needs of the homeless is broken. There are not nearly enough shelter beds, outreach efforts, or supportive housing units to meet the need in any city.
- Homelessness results from a myriad of personal issues that collide with social and policy failures such as a lack of affordable housing, a broken health care system, lack of a living wage, racism, lack of access to mental health services, homophobia and transphobia, and a broken child protection system – to name a few.
- A system that provides just four walls is not enough. We must have enough resources to provide a continuum of services and housing options for individuals who become homeless, as well as for prevention and follow-up services.
- Homelessness and those who experience it are people just like you and me. They deserve not to be demonized or scapegoated because we lack the political will to address the systemic issues that have caused the housing crisis.
- Individuals experiencing homelessness should not be used as political pawns. We don’t use people. We have only to examine history to understand what happens when different ethnic, religious, or social groups are singled out because of their differences.
At The Night Ministry, our outreach, medical, and youth housing services flow from values rooted in the innate worth of each human person who deserves
To be accepted, not rejected
To be welcomed, not isolated
To have the Divine Spark in them lifted up so that it can shine
To be housed, not homeless
To receive the services they need until they can be housed
To be treated with love and respect for their human dignity
To be helped, not criminalized
The events of the last few weeks and the beliefs and values in which they are rooted stand in sharp contrast to those of The Night Ministry. They have made us once again examine our beliefs and values – we embrace them, proudly.
We draw strength from the fact that our staff, volunteers, supporters, and friends share our values and beliefs. I thank you for supporting our mission to provide housing, health care, and human connection to the poor and homeless. And I thank you for having the courage to look into the mirror, to say that your own beliefs and values are different from others, and to have the fortitude to affirm our mutual commitment to serving those in our community who need us most.
Paul W. Hamann, MA, MNA
President & CEO