Serving the Homeless in the Spirit of Eid al-Fitr

Homeless Women, Homlessness, Islam

Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.  Eid al-Fitr (also referred to as Eid ul-Fitr) is a time of celebration and many Muslims extend the spirit of celebration to people who are experiencing homelessness in their communities.  Such activities reflect the ethos of the Five Pillars of Islam.  The third pillar is giving zakat (support of the needy), and the fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan.  In addition, Muslims act on Fitrana, an obligatory charity which is to be paid to the needy prior to Eid so that the recipient(s) can afford food in time for the Eid holiday.  Fitrana differs from zakat in the calculation of the specific amount of charity given, but both tenants of faith show Islam’s dedication to assisting those who are experiencing homelessness and poverty.

Serving the Homeless

Community organizers across the globe have come up with many creative ideas for extending the Eid festivities to homeless community members.  A few years ago, in Slough (in the UK), the group Fasting Not Feasting held an Eid “flash mob”. This event shared the Eid celebrations with people who were experiencing homelessness in the community of Slough.  A flash mob is a group of people who assemble in public to perform an out of the ordinary act.  Flash mobs are most visible in dance videos that have “gone viral” online. This innovative event took the idea of a flash mob and replaced public dancing with a public meeting place for sharing food.  The organizers shared a location online and through “word of mouth” communication channels, and many people brought food to that location to share with people who were experiencing homelessness in Slough.  Sahil Khan, one of the organizers of the event, was interviewed by Muslim Voices about the event: “It was brilliant to see people of all different ages, faiths, races and backgrounds coming together to share a meal with homeless members of the community.”  For more information on this unique event, check out the BBC’s news coverage of the event.

There are also many organizations working to assist people experiencing homelessness that espouse the ethos of Islam in North America and the United States.  The United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (UMMAH) runs many programs that serve people experiencing homelessness throughout the United States.

Muslim Women in the U.S. Need Better Services

Unfortunately, there are a lot of service agencies in the United States that do not respect the needs or dignity of Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Muslim women are especially vulnerable to these indignities. Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness in the United States are often treated poorly and their religious needs are ignored in shelters, housing, and social service programs.  In a poignant Muslim Link Op-Ed, Farkhunda Ali describes the challenges faced by Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.

“Currently, in the DC Metropolitan Area and especially Baltimore, Maryland, there are many Muslim women without access to a stable Islamic living environment. Many Muslim women have often approached non-Muslim social service organizations that have placed them in shelters where they practice un-Islamic dietary habits, and disrespect the dress code of the Muslim woman. Leaving them with no other choice but to seek shelter for themselves and their small children, Muslim women have often accepted local county shelters and temporary housing. These shelters sometimes force them to compromise their Islamic beliefs in order to grant them a secure place to live. After all, some shelter is better than no shelter at all.  What does a Muslim woman do in times of disparity? Does she live under a bridge on cold windy nights, or does she live with a non-Muslim man who is often available to help her, but probably does not allow her to maintain her modesty? Also, the Muslim woman sometimes has to be separated from her children in order to accomodate foster living for them while she is forced to accept housing in women-only shelters….When a Muslim woman suddenly finds herself without a home, it is very difficult for her focus on building herself up to be able to find work or take care of her children when her primary concern is shelter, food, and clothing. Once the primary necessity is fulfilled, then she can pay closer attention on finding employment and doing other things to sustain her self. In any case, she needs temporary Islamic environment where she is able to fulfill her obligations of her faith and build herself to move on to the next step.”  (Read more of this fantastic article: http://mnisaa.org/homeless-muslim-women-shelter-an-idea-born-of-necessity)

The experiences of homeless Muslim women in the United States was also chronicled by the Washington Post in an article published on December 29, 2007:  “They [Muslim women experiencing homelessness] sleep in mosques. Or on the streets. Or in Christian-oriented shelters that might hold prayer meetings or services at odds with their own religious beliefs. For Muslim women without a place to live, particularly those who have been battered or are immigrants, being homeless can test their faith at the time they need it most.” (See: “Muslim Women Who Become Homeless Have Limited Options,” by Jackie Spinner)

There are still challenges to overcome when providing excellent services to Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  However, there is hope.  There are some very successful organizations that target Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  These organizations provide models for other agencies and service organizations.  For example, the Muslim Humanity ICNA Relief USA  organization runs shelters for women experiencing homelessness in twelve cities across the United States including Anaheim, CA, Chicago, IL, Phoenix, AZ, and Kansas City, MO.

Collective Duty for Action

As Eid festivities get underway this weekend, it is important to remember that we all have a duty to assist and serve people who are experiencing homelessness.  Those Muslim community organizers, faith leaders, and activists who work tirelessly to serve the homeless, the hungry, and the poor should be commended.  Non-Muslims have just as great an obligation to serve these vulnerable populations and should take note of the extraordinary efforts of Muslim community builders.

People who do not practice Islam should be just as concerned with providing exceptional services to Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Service organizations and agencies should strive to respect Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  Such agencies and organizations must provide an environment in which Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness feel safe, welcome, dignified, and spiritually whole.

Whether you are Muslim or not, I hope that you are inspired by the compassionate messages and practices associated with Eid al-Fitr, and that you strive to serve people who are experiencing homelessness in your community.

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Equality in Public Transit?

homelessness, Inequality, poverty

Click here to read the NYT article that covers Seattle’s new policy of charging people for public transportation based on their income…This innovative policy attempts to reverse some of the inequality that is inherent in fixed price models of public transportation fares.  Those who are experiencing homelessness and/or those who live below the poverty line struggle to get from place to place paying public transit fares that are targeted at middle income individuals.  With lower fares, Seattle hopes to decrease inequality and encourage the increased use of public transportation by those who struggled to afford it before the new policy.

UN Imperatives Women and Poverty

Women and Poverty

Click here: UNImperative for a power point presentation that analyzes the UN Women and Poverty Initiative….for more info on the United Nations, Women, Poverty, and Inequality, check out these resources:

Beijing Follow Up Report UN Women’s Conference 2000: UN2000

Beijing Follow Up Report UN Women’s Conference 2005: UN2005

Beijing Follow Up Report UN Women’s Conference 2009: UN2009

UNreport2009

United States’ Report to the UN Commission on the Status of Women: USA_review_Beijing20

women-and-poverty

final_image_1_poverty_2013  extremepovertyinfographic500

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“Communities Struggle To Reach Homeless Students Living In The Shadows” NPR story 11/11/14

homeless children, homelessness

CLICK HERE  to read (or listen to) NPR’s story on homeless students, published today in honor of Veteran’s day.

Some poignant excerpts from the news story:

“When we get ready for school or just getting dressed, we would just go to, like, a public bathroom or like a park bathroom [or] McDonalds,” says Joseph, 15. “Brush our teeth at McDonalds or change at McDonalds, and then come out, and then we’d just go to school from there.”

“California has the highest rate of homeless children enrolled in schools anywhere in the country. Many kids live in the shadows — in cheap motels, emergency shelters, campgrounds and even cars — like James once did.”

Cruelty in Action: Cities Across the Country are Making It Illegal to “Food Share”, Give Food to the Homeless

food bans, homelessness

Today, National Public Radio has highlighted and publicized a troubling story about the rise of bans on “food sharing” or distributing food to the homeless in various cities across the nation.  CLICK HERE to read the story.  It is inhumane to criminalize the distribution of food to the hungry.  These cities should be ashamed.

homeless_custom-e345ca925828cc58f713094366f0c7b4ce328e85-s3-c85

Top 10 Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class, by Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach

Inequality

CLICK HERE to read the article titled “Top 10 Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class”, written by Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach, and published on Bill Moyer’s website.  This article details the “Top Ten Solutions to Cut Poverty”–briefly, they are:

1) Create Jobs

2) Raise the minimum wage

3)Increase the EITC for childless workers

4) Support pay equity

5)Provide paid leave and paid sick days

6) Establish work schedules that work

7) Invest in affordable, high quality child care and early education

8) Expand Medicaid

9) Reform the criminal justice system and enact policies that support successful re-entry

10) Do no Harm!

***Read the article for the details!! 🙂

Interactive Poverty Activity

Inequality

As the number of Americans living in poverty grows, “making ends meat” is becoming a challenging task that requires creative financing and many sacrifices.  CLICK HERE to be redirected to http://playspent.org, a site run by Urban Ministries of Durham.  The activity on this website challenges visitors to the site to experience poverty through a series of decisions regarding health, family, jobs, transportation, and housing.  The activity does a good job of highlighting the numerous expenses faced by Americans, and how low wages, low hours, and a limited job market suffocate choices and chances for change for those stuck in poverty.  Check it out!

Homelessness and Poverty are in the News

homelessness, Inequality

Today, I was relieved to see that National Public Radio (NPR) ran two stories on homelessness prevention and progressive ideas for reducing poverty.  Usually, homelessness and poverty only show up in the news if they are topics being covered in ONE story–rarely do two stories that show the nuances of inequality appear in one news cycle.  Today, NPR broke that trend and I applaud them!  The two stories mentioned are:

A ‘Circle’ Of Support Helps Families Stay Out Of Poverty

by PAM FESSLER

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/16/347954335/a-circle-of-support-helps-families-stay-out-of-poverty

AND

Homeless Vets: They’re Not Just Single Men Anymore

by QUIL LAWRENCE

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/16/348715076/homeless-vets-theyre-not-just-single-men-any-more

Now, turning to the important question:

Why don’t more stories about homelessness, poverty, and income inequality appear in daily news cycles?  Why is it that when we do see stories about these important issues, they are singular and rarely in pairs or multiples?