The critical issue of homelessness and how to better assist policymakers and those who work with homeless people is at the heart of a new Institute for Global Homelessness, which will be based in Chicago at DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the United States.
The centre is a collaboration between two Vincentian organizations, DePaul University and Depaul International.
As Depaul International expanded its outreach from helping homeless youth in London, to assisting the homeless in other countries, including Ireland, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United States, it was sought out for advice and expertise by government departments, NGOs and others.
"Whilst we can bring our experience to bear in advising on some of these issues, the primary purpose of Depaul International is in the delivery of services, rather than acting as consultants," said Mark McGreevy, group chief executive.
Depaul International commissioned desktop research on whether there were any academic, institutional or NGO bodies operating at an international level with a primary focus on developing or advising policymakers, homelessness organizations or initiatives, and by providing online or accessible resources to develop strategy and improve service delivery.
"The research indicated there was no single academic department, international agency or NGO providing dedicated training, interactive service or promoting best practices in working with the homeless at a global level," McGreevy said.
Because of their shared Vincentian values and belief in helping the most disadvantaged people around the world in action, not just words, Depaul International reached out to DePaul University with the idea to establish an institute to provide research, leadership development and creative consultancy in homelessness.
"Looking out for the needs of the poor is ingrained in our mission as a Vincentian university," said Fr Dennis H Holtschneider, CM, president of DePaul University. "We are honoured to collaborate with Depaul International to strengthen academic expertise on homelessness and do as much as we can to help alleviate this critical global issue."
"Homelessness is a social issue of global importance," noted McGreevy. "Having a home ranks with access to water, food and education as a fundamental human right. However, for 1.1 billion of the 7 billion people on this planet a place to call home isn't an option.
"The Institute for Global Homelessness will be working for everyone to have a place to call home and a stake in their community," McGreevy said. "We at Depaul International welcome this collaboration with DePaul University in creating something that will have an impact on the lives of homeless people around the world."
The institute will create a comprehensive repository of research on a global scale and examine ways to help address homelessness and alleviate poverty. A primary objective of the collaboration is to equip those who manage homeless shelters and other related service with the knowledge, skills and insight they need to help end homelessness.
A fellowship program and new academic courses at DePaul University are planned to provide training to emerging and existing leaders. At the outset, both organizations will focus on the actions and resources required to bring the institute into operation, with a formal launch planned for 2014.
"This is an institute that wants to deliver change," McGreevy said. "We aim to help people think differently about the problem of homelessness and to make them successful change agents. As committed, willing and capable individuals we take a 21st century approach to problem-solving - this is collaborative, determined and radical in order to address the deficit of information on homelessness internationally and to mobilize people in a movement for change to end it."
This is also the spirit of DePaul University, according to Holtschneider. "We carry on the same mission that Vincent de Paul embarked on more than 400 years ago."