From Generosity to Justice

"We need to focus on how the generous actions elicited by the immediate emergency can translate into a broader compassion and more just public policies."

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Project HOME community is responding by making a donation to organizations in Texas who work with persons experiencing homelessness, who were hit especially hard.  We hold all the people of Texas in our hearts and prayers, and we are enormously grateful for the tremendous outpouring of generosity we have witnessed.

We also remember a similar crisis twelve years ago.  After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, many people fled the area in search of safety.  Many came to Philadelphia, and Project HOME teamed with the City of Philadelphia to meet the need.  In “Project Brotherly Love," we staffed an emergency shelter for over 120 Katrina evacuees, and we served as a hub of services for over 1,400 evacuees throughout the Philadelphia region.  We helped meet their immediate needs, and provided assistance in resettling.  We wrote this reflection in our November 2005 newsletter:

 

November, 2005:  The horrors of Hurricane Katrina have touched a deep chord in Philadelphia. The city government responded by announcing "Project Brotherly Love," which offered housing and services for over 1,000 families left homeless by the hurricane. Meanwhile, thousands of ordinary Philadelphians have contributed to relief funds and sent supplies to victims.

Such gestures of compassion represent the best of our city's citizens. They make us proud to be Philadelphians. But the local outpouring of support also raises some important issues for us to wrestle with. Many ordinary citizens, advocates for the poor, and service providers have raised concerns as our government provides immediate resources for the evacuees and has been unwilling to do the same for so many of our own citizens who struggle daily with homelessness and basic survival.

We at Project HOME are proud to be among the organizations that are assisting the evacuee families coming here.   At the same time, we need to seize this opportunity to challenge our city, ourselves and especially the federal government about how we respond to the ongoing daily local Katrinas of poverty and homelessness. This is a critical opportunity to reassess our priorities and our use of resources to meet human needs.

We can't afford a fruitless debate over whether housing and other resources should go to "them" or "us." We must avoid an either-or scenario that pits the needs of one group of struggling people against another, or forces us to weigh the merits of some homeless people over others. Instead, we need to focus on how the generous actions elicited by the immediate emergency can translate into a broader compassion and more just public policies.

One of the important outcomes of this tragedy may be that it has forced the issue of poverty back onto the national consciousness. The vast majority of those devastated by the disaster were minorities and the old, sick and poor.

--We are witnessing the raw reality of thousands of our citizens who live on the edge of survival.

--We are seeing the gross inadequacy of our social safety nets.

--We are forced to realize that those on the bottom are twice victimized by discrimination and exclusion.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, we are seeing that all of us, in both the public and private sectors, can respond abundantly to alleviate suffering and meet basic human needs. We need to translate the sense of urgency and passion evoked by Katrina into a sustained investment in the basic infrastructure of our city including housing, education, medical care and employment. The best-case scenario is that this tragedy will move our city and our nation toward greater political will for justice and humanity.

Katrina has jolted our conscience, and we are responding with a flood of generosity and compassion. But let's also make sure that every Philadelphian has a safe and decent place to call home.