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Social Justice Day Calls Us to Action

February 18, 2011

By Sister Rose Marie

The United Nations’ (UN) World Day of Social Justice is annually observed on February 20 to encourage people to look at how social justice promotes poverty eradication, full employment and social integration.

As an advocate for justice, the full-time Justice Director for the 17-state South Central Community of the Sisters of Mercy, I am often frustrated by what seems to me to be a disconnect between direct service and advocacy.

Dorothy Day says: “What we would like to do is change the world – make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do.”

For Dorothy’s dream to come true, work to help the disadvantaged must be more than charity. Direct service is more short term, but advocacy looks to long-term, systemic changes. Advocates must be in relationship with those who need and those who give direct service. Otherwise, how do we know what to advocate for? Social justice requires three elements for systemic change to occur: advocacy, direct service and community organizing.

An example of this triangle is the affordable housing situation.

Sister Mary-Anne Plaskon, at Catholic Charities, Mobile, AL. says: “I had a young woman in my office this week who is living between a hotel and her car. She gets Temporary Aide for Needy Families and is in job training now but she lost her rental. She has a 7-year-old boy with medical issues. She is trying to keep him in school, keep up with his medication, find stable housing and a job. She made bad decisions and choices which have placed her in this predicament. Every human being has the right to a roof over their head, basic medical care and the opportunity for training which will hopefully lead to employment with a decent wage. She is on a long waiting list to get into the Salvation Army’s shelter for women with children. I believe a critical component to move someone out of poverty is having enough transitional housing with appropriate wrap-around services for single parents, individuals and families who find themselves homeless or on the edge of homelessness. There needs to be a safety net where they can rest, regroup and be challenged to change their circumstances with guidance and resources.”

A severe lack of affordable rental housing for low-income working people exists in this country, yet the new Congressional budget proposal severely cuts housing programs. The House of Representatives passed this budget on Saturday and it will move to the Senate for consideration after this coming week’s recess.

Community organizers are working with local and national groups to develop campaigns for advocacy to oppose severe cuts to critical human services such as housing programs. Please read about how the Sisters of Mercy are joining these efforts to speak up for persons who are poor and vulnerable through the budget process, and add your voice by taking action with us in the weeks to come.

You may learn here about the Sisters of Mercy’s work on housing issues and view a list of housing ministries.

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