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Homes for the Homeless

Our editorial “A Home for Christmas” (12/23) and many a homily have called public attention to the plight of the homeless, but they are still here by the thousands, stretched out in church pews or huddled in doorways across the nation. A problem too great for private charity, it demands the attention of the state and federal government.

Some major cities have responded by arresting the victims or requiring religious groups to pay for a permit in order to feed the homeless in public parks. Utah, in contrast, under Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman, started a program in 2005 called Housing First that identified the chronically homeless and designed strategies to supply permanent or transitional housing to meet their needs. The state calculated that the costs of emergency services and incarceration amount to $16,670 each year for a chronically homeless person but found that it could supply each person with an apartment and case management services for $11,000.

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As a result of the program, the number of chronically homeless people in Utah has dropped from 1,900 in 2005 to fewer than 500 today. How did this happen? The apartment itself, plus the attention of an assigned case worker, gives people basic stability and enables them to get their lives in order, search for jobs and confront physical and psychological problems. And they are allowed to keep the apartment even when they fail. Housing is a basic human right. Other states should consider the Utah solution.

Europe’s Nomads

The French government has continued its harsh treatment of the Roma people in recent months. Despite protests from the international community, President François Hollande has followed up on the policies of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, by clearing Roma camps. Over 21,000 Roma were deported in 2013, double the number of the previous year. Many of them came to France after being evicted from Bulgaria and Romania.

The Roma, also known as gypsies, are unpopular throughout Europe, where their makeshift camps have long been a source of resentment. Prejudice against them goes back centuries but took a virulent turn during World War II, when an estimated 500,000 Roma were killed at the order of Adolf Hitler.

The United Nations has asked the French government to end the vicious cycle of forced evictions and to work alongside grass-roots groups that minister to Roma migrants. Catholic leaders in France are heeding Pope Francis’ call to focus on the plight of the poor by advocating for this persecuted minority. “People of Bulgarian and Romanian origin have come to live in our country, and for several years now, we’ve seen no policy offered other than that of refusing acceptance to the greatest number,” Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille said in November. Even those “behaving reasonably and peacefully” were denied basic necessities, the archbishop said, and were subject to acts of violence and “hateful, unrestrained remarks.”

A long-term solution is impossible without the cooperation of the whole European community. The well-being of the Roma cannot depend on the vicissitudes of local government policies. Continued pressure from the United Nations, combined with strong support from religious leaders in Europe, may be the only way to ensure slow but steady progress.

Tear Down This Wall

Just as the peace talks between Israel and Palestine seem to be sputtering, Israel has thrown still another obstacle in the road: their attempt to extend the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. In the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem and next to Bethlehem, the valley is a beloved oasis, if not stronghold, of Christianity. If the wall is built, a convent of Salesian sisters who run a school with 400 students, a monastery of brothers and 58 Christian farmers would be cut off from their work, recreational lands and water sources. It is far from the international border drawn after the Six Day War in 1967.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, along with bishops from Europe, Canada and South Africa, visited the agricultural valley in January. The bishops have acknowledged Israel’s need for security, but strongly condemned the seizure of land. On Jan. 28, Bishop Pates asked Secretary of State John Kerry to press Israel to “cease and desist in its efforts to unnecessarily confiscate Palestinian lands in the Occupied West Bank.” He wrote about his visit to the valley: “I was simply astounded by the injustice of it all.”

The community in the Cremisan Valley received some temporary relief on Feb. 3. In response to a citizens’ appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a preliminary order to stop construction of the wall in that area. Israel has until April 10 to explain why there are no alternative routes. In October 2012, the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land said the planned construction of the wall “will put more pressure” on the Christians living in Bethlehem, and “more people will make the decision to leave.” It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is what the government of Israel intends.

 

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