In 1617, St Vincent de Paul was asked by one of his benefactors, “what must be done?”
400 years later, this question is the driving force behind Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) 13 Houses Campaign, a global initiative drawing its inspiration from the work of St Vincent in 17th-century Paris. Realising that his work feeding children living on the street was not a long-term solution to homelessness, St Vincent built 13 houses to care for them. By working in partnership with the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity, the 13 houses ensured that the children would never experience homelessness again. The houses were not just four walls: they were a place where the children received medical care, education and training, a place where they could play and simply just be children. Most importantly, the skills acquired at the 13 houses gave the children a future.
Today, the campaign draws inspiration from these original 13 houses to create and improve services for the 1.2 billion people experiencing homelessness worldwide. Projects not only provide housing, but also implement education and training opportunities to end the inter-generational poverty that can be a cause of homelessness. When FHA set up the Campaign in 2018, we set the ambitious goal of reaching 10,000 people in five years – starting with the Campaign’s first project, the construction of a singular house in Little Rock, USA.
I’m proud to have witnessed the campaign grow across the globe. Now, 13 Houses projects are present in 64 countries, from Mauritiana to Spain, and today I’m pleased to share that the 13 Houses campaign has transformed the lives of 10,000 people worldwide.
Reaching this goal is a testament to the hard work of the global Vincentian family and shows how the power of collaboration can make a real difference in ending homelessness.
In Guatemala, members of the Vincentian family, including the Daughters of Charity, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Congregation of the Mission, came together to form the group Solidaridad por Guate in response to the Volcán de Fuego eruption. This collaboration meant that, just one year after the eruption, they had built 32 houses for 135 people in Chimaltenango.
In Peru, the Vincentian family of Lambayeque collaborated with other Vincentian organisations to construct St Vincent de Paul Village in Puerto Eten. The village is now home to Maria and her three children, who fled Venezuela’s economic crisis. The project provides safety, warmth and hope for Maria and her family, who have access to housing, employment workshops and personal development opportunities through the project.
As well as collaboration, responding to local need is key to the 13 Houses Campaign. There is not one single solution to ending homelessness and each project is tailored towards the needs of the local community. As a result, I’ve seen the campaign give rise to diverse and innovative projects. In Botswana, communities where water is scarce have been provided with water tanks alongside housing. Meanwhile in India, Vincentian Family India worked with the community in Taganaju to create a project proposal tailored towards their needs. This has resulted in the construction of 17 houses so far, and more are being built.
Whilst housing 10,000 people is an incredible achievement, today is also an opportunity for us to reflect on what more must be done. To solve the growing global problem of homelessness, we must find new opportunities to collaborate. We must continue to work with communities to tailor projects towards their needs and continue to learn from one another about what works to end homelessness. By doing so, we can work in the spirit of St Vincent to ensure all people have a place to call home and a stake in their community.
Mark McGreevy OBE, Famvin Homeless Alliance Coordinator and Depaul Group President