Marking National Homeless Memorial Day: A Message from Karen LaFrazia

In today's guest blog post, Karen LaFrazia, President & CEO of MHSA member agency St. Francis House, reflects on National Homeless Memorial Day.

Tonight, as we eagerly mark the winter solstice as the turning point to longer days filled with sunshine, many in our community will be grappling with the longest night of the year. On this December 21, we mark National Homeless Memorial Day in recognition of all who passed away while homeless.

The invisibility and isolation that come with experiencing homelessness are exacerbated by the darkness of night, which so many suffer through.

For so many individuals experiencing homelessness, homelessness itself can be a death knell – uncertainty when your next meal will be, brutal weather conditions, and higher risk of assault. These factors all combine to exacerbate one’s health and lifespan, decreasing a chronically homeless individual’s life expectancy from the average U.S. life expectancy of 80 to their 60s.

Fortunately, St. Francis House is here as the largest day shelter in Massachusetts – but we are more than shelter. When dawn breaks, we are a welcoming place of refuge for those who need it, as well as a provider of supportive services to help our guests find their way out of homelessness.

For more than 30 years we have intervened in the lives of thousands of men and women who suffer and created a legacy within the city of compassion and social justice. When you think about it, this concept of legacy, it is a powerful life tool and a catalyst for social change.

Every faith tradition tells us what our legacy should be. Matthew 25 instructs: “For I was hungry and you gave me food...” Judaism's concept of tikkun olam calls on us to repair the world and zakat, or charity, is the Third Pillar of Islam.

Each day at St. Francis House we bear witness to the creation of legacies that scar and legacies that uplift. While we bear witness, it is our guests who bear the burden of a world that at times can be indifferent to their suffering or worse, blame them for their plight.

So, what of the legacy of St. Francis House? Our mission calls upon us to be a place of refuge and to create pathways to stability. And we are doing this, 365 days a year. You only need to stand in our lobby at the break of dawn to see the need. Some arrive carrying the blanket they slept under the night before, others come looking for a coat or a pair of shoes, all are hungry and are seeking a permanent place to call home.

Injustices such as these make me sad and angry but that only fuels my conviction to provide our guests relief from their suffering and create solutions that bring opportunities. And I thank God that I am not alone.

Our staff are men and women who know that the greatest poverty in the world today is experienced by those who feel unloved, unwanted and uncared for. Every day of the year, in contrast to the injustices of the world, we create a place that welcomes everyone, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to our door. In this way, we provide hope and the transformative power of what is possible when one is intentional and deliberate.

On this day, as we acknowledge all the lost lives we also need to recognize the importance of our own legacies and think deeply in the coming year about what our own will be. I challenge you to consider what steps you will make to support those who struggle in homelessness and poverty. I invite you to join with St. Francis House and fellow organizations who are working together to see the dawn of a new day, a day when homelessness is ended and we live in a world where everyone has a place to call home.

Karen LaFrazia
President & CEO
St. Francis House

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