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Vincentian Motherhouse –  A Homeless Encampment?

The Eastern Province Motherhouse site turned into a homeless encampment?

No, this is not a look into a future where there are no more Vincentian Priests and Brothers in the Eastern region of the United States. It is not time travel of some sort.

On December 7th, a group of people will sleep out on a possibly freezing cold night in the large courtyard of the Motherhouse property as part of the World’s Big Sleep Out campaign. For one night, we are joining an expected 50,000 people to sleep out in unison to create the world’s largest display of solidarity and support of those experiencing homelessness and displacement. Our Sleep Out will certainly not be of the magnitude of those who will sleepout in Times Square New York!

While The World’s Big Sleep Out involves spending a night in the cold, it is not about pretending to be homeless. It’s an act of solidarity – to give you a tiny insight into this reality, and to raise the funds and awareness needed to help people who have no other choice.

Here Philadelphia 50% of the funds raised will go to Depaul USA – a local Vincentian Family program helping people affected by homelessness in Philadelphia and the other 50% will go to support children and families who are displaced internationally.

The Vincentian family and Homelessness

Our sister site FamVin has been following this moment since its early days as a venture of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Australia. Since its inception in 2006, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout has raised almost $36.5 million to fund Vinnies homeless services across Australia.

This unique event enables business leaders to actively combat the issue of homelessness by experiencing a little of what it is like to sleep out themselves. The advocacy and fundraising efforts of participating CEOs, their businesses and the support of partners is crucial to the success of the event.

In June 2019 (Australian Winter), CEO’s, leaders in business, community and government, slept out without shelter on one of the longest nights of the year to help change the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness. They raised a record 7.9 million dollars to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in Australia. This money funds new projects, assists with the provision of existing homeless services, and allows Vinnies to expand programs for people experiencing homelessness.

So please do not confuse a “sleep out” with a group of teenagers “sleeping over at a friends house.

What would Vincent say about these Sleepouts?

What would St Vincent de Paul have thought about the World’s Big Sleep Out? He is known more for his quiet and loving service. He would doubtless have supported its fundraising purpose – he always saw that money was needed to make the work possible. Would he also have rejoiced that so many CEO’s cared enough about the homeless that they are willing to sleep on the street as a sign of solidarity? He said at one point ‘It is very difficult to do any good without conflict’, so perhaps he would have understood this 21st century way of responding to homelessness.

Later Vincentians saw clearly that the task is not finished when immediate help is given. Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the St Vincent De Paul Society, said:

“You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis; you must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty with the aim of a long term improvement.”

In our own time, the Vincentian Family has explored the idea of working for ‘systemic change’ as part of the Vincentian mission. See the Vincentian Family Homeless Alliance as well as its international 13 Houses Campaign which takes its inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul who built 13 small houses close to St. Lazare, the motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, to care for abandoned children.

Whether or not St. Vincent would have organized a sleep-out, he certainly gives us an example of doing new things and speaking to powerful people in order to carry out his work. We need to have the courage to do the same; and the confidence to use the possibilities of our own time to take our Vincentian mission into new places.

What can you do

If you are over 21 join us in Philadelphia… or some other place near you. Contact Liz Wilson at lwilson@cmphlsvs.org if you can join us.

If you cannot join us for the Sleep Out, please consider donating! Here are two options…

Visit the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal Giving Tuesday Campaign which supports works of the Eastern Province.
Text the word REGISTER to 215-201-4321 to make a donation via Text2Give. You can also find out if your company participates in a matching gift program.

Or visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bigsleepout-vincentianfamily

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