Participants of the RAC’s Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Seminars, often share with us that one of the most inspiring moments of the weekend is hearing a presenter from the National Coalition for Homeless Speaker’s Bureau. Presenters are people who have or are currently experiencing homelessness, and tell their stories to groups in Washington, D.C. and around the country. I think L’Taken students are moved by these speakers not only because they are engaging presenters, but because these stories are complex stories of homelessness. Students are surprised to learn that some of the speakers had successful careers before experiencing homelessness, or that many people become homeless for only short periods of time. Considering that each night more than 500,000 people are housing insecure, these stories provide a lens into over half a million unique stories about homelessness in America.
Our Jewish tradition calls on our communities to take care of those who are experiencing homelessness. “Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house,” the prophet Isaiah preaches (Isaiah 58:7). Recognizing that people become housing insecure for a number of reasons, many of which are out of control of a single person, we have a communal responsibility to care for those who do not have a home. Implicit in our tradition is a suggestion that we help others willingly, knowing that they would help us if we fell into similar hard times.
As a Reform community we closely watched the budget Congress passed for 2016 to make sure that funding was not take away from important affordable housing programs. Generally, we were pleased with the budget’s commitment to existing affordable housing. No funds were raided from the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF), one of the major funding sources for community based affordable housing programs. The budget increases funding to the HOME program, which provides grants to states to promote home ownership.
At the same time, there is much more work that needs to be done to set America on a path to end homelessness in America. No new money was appropriated to the Housing Choice Voucher program, as we had asked. This program helps subsidize the rent of low income families in many housing units. Further, while the National Housing Trust Fund exists, Congress has much more work to do to provide an adequate funding mechanism to allow for local robust programs.
Hearing the stories of people who have experienced injustice can better shape our work as Jews to repair the world. They show us that our acts of loving kindness, acts of gimilut hasadim, must respond to the need in the world, and come when we are in relationship with each other.
As we enter 2016, let’s commit to advocate for those experiencing homelessness, and let us continue build relationships with all who are in need in our communities.
Urge Congress to work toward ending homelessness by funding the National Housing Trust Fund. Also visit the RAC’s housing and homelessness advocacy page to find out more ways you can get involved.