Being A Good Neighbor

Compassion and charity have never been enough to address the realities plaguing a society’s most vulnerable citizens long-term. Efforts toward obtaining a living wage, developing more affordable, secure and safe housing, ending community violence and law enforcement brutality, and protecting the rights of people experiencing homelessness must be transformative for lasting change. How we address poverty and its emerging issues, and all forms of oppression is measurement of how we see ourselves in relation to each other in community as neighbors, and ultimately as fellow human beings.

In 1956 as he prepared for the Montgomery bus protests, Dr. King delivered his sermon “On Being a Good Neighbor” and identified our neighbor as “Anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside.” As he reflected on the issues of the day, he asked his listeners, “What would happen if we do not take a stand?” That question is still pertinent today, as we reflect on the Trayvon Martins, the Sandra Blands, the victims of gun violence, the growing number of children without permanent housing, and the women and men burdened with fines and arrest records for inhabiting public spaces. These are a few of our neighbors who can be counted among the most vulnerable and in need.

Unfortunately, it seems that we sometimes struggle with what it means to be a good neighbor to those who are like us, and much too often to those who are not like us. Maybe we feel powerless, are fearful, blame the victimized, or have been lulled into complacency and passivity. Fortunately, history bears witness to what committed people awaken to the call for greater humanity can accomplish.

As we engage in activities across the nation commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, two questions arise, “How open are our ears, minds, and hearts to today’s voices echoing his call for social and economic justice? And, what are we willing to do to get it done?” Dr. King’s question nearly sixty years ago allows us to individually and collectively identify if we can be counted among the active participants to bring about change for our day. This year as we celebrate his life and legacy let us become awaken to the call for justice in new ways. Whether we find ourselves involved in community, seated at tables of power, members of faith communities, or on social media, let us shake the trees of fear, complacency and passivity with active involvement in causes and movements that seek solutions. Let us be active for change, and by doing so take a stand that reflects the essence of being a good neighbor.

– DeBorah Gilbert White, Founder and Coordinator of HerStory Ensemble


While shoppers camp outside their favorite retailers to score Black Friday deals, homeless communities across the country will face fines, harassment, and jail time for camping in an attempt to get a good night’s rest. To combat this stark inequality, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is calling for cities to stop the criminalization of life sustaining activities and instead promote “safe sleep.”

We know that ordinances and restrictions that seek to punish people experiencing homelessness for engaging in survival activities are counterproductive to ending homelessness. Instead, imposing fines and generating criminal records for “quality of life” offenses create a greater barriers for many to becoming re-housed. As chair of NCH’s Civil Rights Committee, Brian Davis, asserts, “it makes no sense to complicate a person’s ability to get into housing or find a job because they are engaged in purely innocent behavior of eating, sleeping, or resting in the public space especially when there are not enough shelter beds”.

So, we ask you to stand with us during this year’s Black Friday to call on your community leaders to look at successful alternatives to criminalization efforts and the benefits of universal access to shelter.

  • Challenge your elected officials to open discussions about the lack of adequate shelter, the high cost of rental housing, and the shredding of the safety net in your communities.
  • Call upon your local religious leaders to develop plans for how to better serve families and young people requesting help other than law enforcement.
  • Educate your friends, loved ones, and shoppers camping for Black Friday deals by downloading and distributing the postcard below.
Speak up, take action!

General Postcard Front   General Postcard Back

     Hidden along the streets corners of major urban cities and in the wooded terrain of rural communities, a hidden crisis threatens our nation’s future. Homeless, unaccompanied young adults struggle to survive and access basic resources. They age out of the foster care system, are ostracized from their communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or experience abuse in the home, only to find themselves with nowhere to go besides the streets. They fear revealing their sexual identity because of the potential risk of harassment and physical violence. They sell themselves and trade sexual favors for a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Youth homelessness is too often ignored by our nation’s political leaders and communities. In order to protect the next generation of Americans, we must call for a national commitment ensuring that every young person in this country has a safe place to sleep, and the necessary resources to build stronger, healthier futures for themselves and our country.

#ActforYouth 2015     Emergency shelters provide the most immediate assistance for homeless individuals. A bed for the night protects a person from the elements, assault, and harassment. For unaccompanied homeless youth, however, accessing a shelter is extremely difficult. Only 4,000 youth shelter beds are currently available nationwide for the almost 500,000 young people who are homeless. The need far outweighs the resources available. The National Campaign for Youth Shelter calls for a federal commitment to provide all youths with immediate access to safe shelter, additional shelter beds for young people, and a more accurate effort to count the number of unhoused youth

     The lack of shelter beds and resources committed to ending youth homelessness reflects the absence of youth in the overall national discussion on poverty. As individuals experiencing homelessness endure increasing criminalization and anti-homeless policies, unaccompanied young people face an uncertain future that is heighten by barriers that might prevent them from completing their education or gaining access to sustainable employment. They struggle to find acceptance and encounter discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are running a race against poverty and homelessness. Society’s obstacles make this race seem unwinnable and the hope for a better future dwindles away.

     The National Coalition for the Homeless and the Ali Forney Center brought together anti-poverty groups, LGBTQ organizations, and formally homeless young people this week for a convening on ending youth homelessness. We know that in order to eradicate homelessness for everyone, youth must be part of the conversation and part of the solution. Shelter beds help young people who are experiencing homelessness to access education, employment, and health services which helps them to build stronger and healthier futures. These better futures can all start with a safe place to sleep. It’s time to #Act4Youth!

-Deirdre Walsh
Student Activist, National Coalition for the Homeless Intern 

On January 27, 2015, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to expand programs for vulnerable youth who are homeless and on their own. The National Coalition for the Homeless strongly endorses this legislation.

This bill would reauthorize and expand the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, a law that expired in the last Congress. The new bill, titled the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), will continue programs for unaccompanied homeless youth with increased funding for services such as transitional housing and street outreach. Expansion of RHYTPA also ensures LGBTQ youth are granted access to services free of discrimination. It also expands support for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The National Coalition applauds the work of Senators Collins, Leahy, Ayotte, and Booker on this important piece of legislation. We urge Congress to pass this legislation without delay.