In our latest fireside chat, A Faith That Does Justice had a special opportunity to host a virtual, thought-provoking and impactful panel on the Confluence of Poverty, Immigration, and Homelessness. Father Peter moderated the discussion between Dr. Geralde Gabeau, Suzanne Giovanetti, and Jeff Thielman, each of whom leads a local non-profit organization focused on the service of new immigrants, asylum-seekers, the unhoused, and other vulnerable people in the Boston region. Dr. Gabeau is the Executive Director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute, Suzanne is the CEO of the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless, and Jeff is the President and CEO of the International Institute of New England. The evening featured intellectual and philosophical dialogue, as well as powerful stories, a call to action, and a message of hope.
After briefly introducing each organization, the panelists shared thoughtful perspectives on a range of Father Peter’s questions that gave the audience a birds-eye view of the state of immigration in the Boston region. The main topics of the night included the financial cost of moving to Massachusetts from a foreign land, the daily struggles of adapting to a new country, such as language barriers and building a social life from scratch, the impact of mental illness on poverty and suffering, the unique challenges that women face, and the impact of Covid on the local immigrant population. The conversation highlighted both structural issues, such as the federal government’s antiquated immigration system, and hidden challenges that the audience may not have previously understood. As an example, many migrants face long and taxing journeys to the United States, which leads to trauma. After reaching their destination, many individuals face an initial realization that their new home is not the “promised-land” they had expected, due to financial burdens, difficulty obtaining paperwork, language barriers, and many more challenges, leading to demoralization. All these roadblocks impact the mental health and wellbeing of the clients that these leaders serve every day. The panel covered a range of other topics and stories, and we encourage you to view the recording here.
Father Peter closed the evening by asking each panelist to provide a call to action and a message of hope for the audience. They urged listeners to step out of their comfort zones, engage in conversation, and remember that every act counts. The three organizations, as well as A Faith That Does Justice, offer a multitude of opportunities for serving the immigrant and homeless communities. Jeff noted that “if you have a relationship with someone, it’s a lot easier to help them out.” In turn, these new members of our communities offer a lesson in hope. They are resilient folks, and they teach us that no matter how hard a situation gets, one can always find a way to a better life. Suzanne articulated it well when she said that each of them is “in the business of hope.” The leaders really emphasized the fulfillment and joy that comes with seeing their clients reach milestones like a job offer or a new apartment. Dr. Gabeau shared a unique story about a man of Haitian descent who currently works at Northeastern University. After embarking on a long journey through Central America to get to the United States, he’s found a special role serving other newcomers in his communities. He speaks four languages, has a driver’s license, and even offers time to drive his new friends to appointments and English-speaking classes! The evening was filled with similar uplifting stories.
Father Peter connected the message of the fireside chat with the mission of A Faith That Does Justice: to challenge people of faith to experience God by living their faith intentionally in the service of others. He noted that although people of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and all faith traditions across the world may have different beliefs and methods of worship, the actions associated with their faith should all look the same: acting on behalf of justice and in service of the most vulnerable members of society. The panelists noted how the bible’s most consistent message is “to welcome the stranger,” and the AFTDJ team appreciates the panelists’ willingness to live out this mission every day in their inspiring work.