Sometimes it's important to step back and look at the human impact of policy.
On Tuesday, Dec., 21, in communities across the United States, groups will be holding an annual Longest Night of the Year Homeless Memorial service to honor the lives of homeless men and women who passed away this year, and to draw attention to the fact that many homeless lives are cut short because we, as a society, can't find a way to end homelessness. Nationally, Longest Night is sponsored by the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Anyone interested in participating in the Longest Night Homeless Memorial in your own community should be able to find out what local event is happening through one of those two organizations.
In New York City, the Longest Night of the Year Homeless Memorial is sponsored by Picture the Homeless and hosted by Judson Memorial Church. Participants will, of course, be remembering all homeless New Yorkers who passed away this year; but will be paying particular attention to three Picture the Homeless members who passed away: Faizal Baksh, Joe Little and Mosey. Mosey's loss was especially tragic because she was still in her youth when she passed. So the theme for Longest Night in New York, this year is, "Our Youth Are in Danger."
The sacred texts chosen for the New York memorial reflect the conviction of the event's organizers and participants that the phenomenon of homelessness is a grave moral issue in our society: Amos 8:4-8, 13, Quran 4 (Surat An-Nisā'):1-2, 4-6, and Matthew 19:13-15.
Today, over 36,000 adults and children are occupying beds in New York City's official network of shelters; countless more are on the streets. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that, nationwide, 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year. While it is true that we are in a down economy right now and many people who thought they were economically stable are hurting financially, many among the homeless population were in destitution long before the economy collapsed and will probably be homeless long after it recovers. I know one fourteen-year-old kid whose mother pointed out has lived over half his life, so far, in homeless shelters; and, chances are, he will grow into adulthood living in homeless shelters. What kind of way is that to start a life? Yet our national priorities, right now, are aimed at sustaining tax cuts for the insanely affluent and staving off deflation in the housing market.
There was a glimmer of hope a few months ago, when the White House released its Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. A plan like that costs money, though, if it's ever going to be anything more than words on paper; and it doesn't look like any is going to be forthcoming anytime soon. Just this year, we couldn't get the Senate to find money to fund the National Housing Trust Fund; though we found a way to cover tax breaks.
So while we're all rallying around our new-found national virtue of "shared sacrifices" and embracing bi-partisan compromises, we might take a step back and have a look at who's really doing the sacrificing for our nation's economy and who's being left out in these noble compromises.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to find and participate in the Longest Night Homeless Memorial in your community on Tuesday. And, if you happen to live in New York City, I invite you to join us on Tuesday at 6pm at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, Manhattan.