When Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana arrived in the United States from his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, he didn’t expect to encounter some of the economic realities here. Settling in Washington, D.C., he became director of AFSC’s Peace and Economic Justice Program where he came face-to-face with the homeless who camped out on his office doorstep.
Along with coalition partners, the Service Committee has made the lack of shelters a priority, especially as homelessness is on the rise in the capital. As one overnight resident stated, “I felt so
guilty because I took the last space in the shelter when there was a line of more than a dozen women behind me.” And an elderly woman reported at a recent community meeting that because there were no more beds, she spent a rainy, cold night huddled in fear on the street.
The program to battle homelessness connects safe, affordable housing to larger issues such as access to health care, job stability, nutrition education, and community activism. In spite of significant challenges, Jean-Louis says that he will persevere. “Washington is the first Human Rights City in the United States and we need to become a model for other communities. That includes solving homelessness among our citizens.”