In this month of the Resurrection we present two articles that touch our hearts. The works presented respond to the expectations of Pope Francis in his apostolic letter of 21 November 2014 to all consecrated people.
“I ask you to work concretely in welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechize, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray. Consequently, I would hope that structures can be streamlined, large religious houses repurposed for works which better respond to the p resent demands of evangelization and charity, and apostolates adjusted to new needs.” (Expectations for the Year of Consecrated Life, point 4).
Province of France North : “Dare to go to the outskirts of our cities, of our streets, to change our view and meet our suffering brothers and sisters.” Pope Francis
Before all else, they are persons. Contrary to clichés, they are not “bums” or drunkards or lazy… For us it is very important to know that they are primarily people, on the street, men or women (a growing number) with or without children, younger and older. You see them sitting on the floor, lying in the subway or near shopping centers, at the door of our churches. They are also in cars, at night or along the highways or in the woods. They are persons on the street but they are not just that. They carry values, abilities, dreams, stories. God loves them as they are.
Today we see a growing number of persons in precarious situations – between 5,000 and 8,000 persons sleep outdoors in Paris. They don’t just sleep there, they live there as well! Dozens of homeless persons died last year in Paris. Life expectancy on the street is 49 years; life expectancy in France is 81 years… We cannot accept this distressful situation.
They come from different places: poor workers, isolated retired persons, women with children expelled by their husbands, youth without family support… We must understand that to live on the street today is by necessity, when you must manage great difficulties and you have no support in your personal life.
In 2014, how is one found to be on the street?
Certainly, each one has his or her own reason in their depths, but the three principal causes we see most frequently today are:
- Economic : unemployment, being fired, inability to work due to a long illness
- Dependency: alcohol, drugs
- Emotional breakdown: surely the most painful
These persons are not just without a roof over their heads or decent revenue, they also lack relationships. We all need to have a network for listening or friendships. The more a person falls into insecurity, the more the circle of relationships shrinks until it is virtually non-existent.
To be on the street is to possess nothing and to be missing everything: comfort, security, all manner of social life. Their daily life is to sleep outdoors, under a bridge, in a tunnel, to hurry to places of welcome and help, water fountains, showers, changing rooms… In their daily life they cannot care for themselves, they are not valued, they live in loneliness and constant fear, without family and friends.
What to do? How to meet our suffering brothers and sisters?
A new project of the Association, DePaul France, with the support of the Province of France North, opened in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. It is a partnership of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian priests and brothers, the “Equipes Saint Vincent” (AIC) and the conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The project is housed in the local house of the Daughters of Charity at Périchaux.
Thanks to this project, named “Périchaux Home”, we allow the unemployed to find ‘friends’, a temporary ‘family’ – volunteers who welcome them, who listen, who care for their feet, giving them a framework that meets their basic needs. This is a first step towards rehabilitation, to an upgrading of their self-image… This project will support about 40 to 50 people a day.
How was the project born?
During the annual meeting of “DePaul International” in Paris in 2010, the leaders were struck by magnitude of the urban poverty in the French capital, and the lack of sufficient resources, despite efforts in recent years. At the same time, the Superior General’s appeal to work for the poor led the group to appeal to all of the Vincentian family in Paris. A study was conducted from March to June 2011 to assess the needs from which came Périchaux Home.
The premises, in the house of the Daughters of Charity in Périchaux, were placed at the disposition of DePaul France to begin the project. A reception service for homeless persons, managed by “L’Equipe Saint-Vincent des Périchaux” had been there more than 10 years offering companionship at lunch twice a week. These volunteers were re-engaged and have become involved in the new project of DePaul France.
Today, a steering committee for Périchaux Home has been formed. A Director of the project has been in place since 2012; we call on faithful partners and publics. The design for the renovation of the buildings has been finished, the work permits obtained and the work began in June 2014.
Many services will be under one roof: showers, laundry, urgent care, treatment room, podiatrist, hairdresser, workshops, accompaniment to health specialists (notably to the health center at Rue Miollis, run by the Company of the Daughters of Charity). There is a special welcome for women one day a week.
There has been a large involvement of the Province of France North. Since 2011, 5 Daughters of Charity have been on the Steering Committee. The Province has supported the studies, financed and made the premises available. The redevelopment work and upgrading has been supervised by the Province with the Director of the Association. The Board of “DePaul” is made up of a Sister, a member of the Congregation of the Mission, a representative of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and a representative of the “Equipes Saint Vincent” (AIC France). Thus we are together building a Vincentian response to the problem of homelessness. Other projects in Paris and elsewhere in France are being discussed.
Saint Vincent de Paul said, “we do not see much progress; this requires time and patience.” It’s true that this project is a long process, but our work is already beginning to bear fruit.
Sister Solange Rault, Steering Committee
Sister Andrée Blanchet, Board of Directors