Remembering Fearless Advocate John Joyce

If homelessness is a national problem with local solutions, then John Joyce was Rhode Island’s answer to the question “Who will fight the good fight against homelessness in our community?”

This past week, the city of Providence, the state of Rhode Island and the nation lost an advocate’s advocate when John Joyce lost his battle with cancer at the age of 50. The National Coalition for the Homelessness and its membership, both housed and un-housed, wish to express a profound sadness for a friend lost too early and thanks for a life that was truly special by any measure.

John Joyce

Many years went into the making of this courageous homeless advocate. Like many before him, John’s path through homelessness made him a genuine soldier for the war on poverty. His testimonials were spoken from the heart and rendered clearly in first person experiences. John led Rhode Island through an important process that resulted in the enactment of the nation’s first “Homeless Bill of Rights”, a state legislative success that has been emulated nationwide.

We will miss John for his courage and his commitment. But perhaps most of all, we will miss him as a true sign of hope that one day we will live in a fully housed nation.

Please read more about John’s life and death at

-Neil Donovan, Executive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless

During our difficult winter weather months, members of the National Coalition for the Homeless AmeriCorps*VISTA program are working diligently with their partners in local communities to conduct “Point in Time” homeless counts.

iStock_000006795293Small-300x199Point-in-Time PiT counts often look different form one community to the next, but the purpose is singular. Required by US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the PiT count is a volunteer led effort to try to capture an accurate picture of the number of homeless individuals living in shelters and on the street. Data from the count enables service providers to gauge the extent of homelessness, determine the services needed to prevent, reduce and end it, and help leverage federal funding to support homeless directed services. However the truth concerning the fullest accounting or enumeration of America’s homeless men, women and children lies somewhere far beyond current attempts at data collection.

When volunteer enumerators seek to count those experiencing homelessness they can find them sleeping in a downtown square, a park bench, sleeping out in a car, or hidden from public view under a bridge. Since the counts began, more than two decades ago, there has been considerable controversy concerning the efficacy of a nationwide enumeration. However, the National Coalition for the Homeless and its member organizations believe that many communities across the country are capable counters, wonderful advocates and stewards for progress towards ending homeless. In spite of the best efforts by local area advocate and providers, it’s still remains difficult to imagine that an accurate portrayal of homelessness can be found in a majority of local communities. Nonetheless this is how numbers are collected and resources are allocated. So, America’s only enumeration of those experiencing homelessness is still a very important annual “tradition” for community stakeholders working to end homelessness. In dealing with the confines of the count, NCH-VISTA members have taken this moment to use it as an outreach opportunity in their community.

NCH-VISTA members now employ many different outreach ideas and practices to reach and conduct outreach to individuals experiencing homeless in their community. The members mobilize volunteers to create care packages for individuals, hand out gift certificates, and develop relationships with the individuals that they come in contact with. Through these much needed exchanges, members are able to inform individuals in their own community about what services were available to them.americorps-week

An NCH VISTA member in Florida has recounted an experience where he was able to inform a group of homeless people under encampment that they had access to a food pantry and a health clinic that they were not aware of. Our members were able to share their “survival guides” that they created, hygiene materials, as well as hand out bus passes to homeless connect events that were planned for the following days. Homeless Connect events are ways for individuals experiencing homelessness to go to one location to receive services such as health screenings, check ups, hair cuts, and job training information.

Our VISTA members are taking advantage of the opportunity to make a big impact on their communities. Though flawed, the homeless count is a great benefit to engage and make contact on a larger scale with those experiencing homelessness in some of the most meaningful ways possible.

-Brian Parks, VISTA Project Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless