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Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Remarks to the
Community and Faith-Based Organizations Conference

Los Angeles, CA
September 25, 2000

Thank you very much, first, to Father Joseph Hacala. Joseph Hacala has done a heck of a job at HUD. We had an idea, as he said, it was a vision for a different type of partnership, a novel partnership. Why couldn't we invite the faith-based community right into the department and why couldn't we set up a Center in the department that worked with non-profits and faith-based communities? This was very novel, very innovative. It was going to take a Jesuit to get it done, I could tell right away, and we recruited Father Joe Hacala and it is going great guns in just a few short years. I want to thank him very much for his great, great work and thank you for organizing this conference.

I want to thank Rabbi Kollin for being with us. Ms. Im, thank you for your words. I want to thank two people from the center's staff who are with us today, Lloyd Lamois who came out from Washington, D.C., and Corryne Deliberto.

This conference is about a different way of doing business. We want to get outside of the box a little bit. That's what HUD's Center for Community and Interfaith Partnerships is all about.

We've been talking about helping the poorer communities in our country for a long time, but we have tended to have the same debate over and over and over and over again. We need to do housing work, we need to do social service work, we need to do economic development work, and then we argue about how to do it.

The argument, almost for the past 30 years, has always been the same. Two sides -- it goes back and forth depending on where you are at that particular time. On the one hand, we'll argue the federal government should do this, this is really the responsibility of the federal government. We have the federal government in Washington, D.C., and that's how to get this done because these are national priorities.

The pendulum will then swing to the other side and we'll have the other end of the debate: The federal government can't do this, they're too far away, they're a bunch of bureaucrats, they're all in Washington, D.C. What do they know? The government closest to the people is the best government. This should all be done by state and local government.

This debate has gone on, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes one political party will argue one, but they'll also change sides, the political party. Consistency has not been a problem on this issue. The debate has gone back and forth. What level of government should do it?

About twenty ten years ago, the debate shifted slightly. Somebody injected a new notion. They said, how about, besides just government doing this and arguing should it be federal or should it be local, how about not-for-profit organizations doing this?

To a certain extent, you now have a third player -- not-for-profit organizations, relatively diminimus compared to the amount being done by government. What we want to say today, what the Center says by its existence, what we said years ago when we started this, is we want to change the paradigm. You're talking about providing services to the community.

Why should the dialogue be what level of government, what not-for-profit organization? Why don't we look into the community and find out what structure is there already? When they talk about community development they talk about building on the assets. Find the strength within the community and then build out from that. Find the rock and build on the rock when you find the stability and then build out from that.

What is more stable in a community? What has more connections, more relationships in a community? What knows the community better than a faith-based organization that is already within that community? Why do we have to design a new vehicle? Why do we have to make a new partner? Why don't we use the ability and the expertise that we have?

They're called faith-based organizations and they're all over this country. That should be the new paradigm for doing what we've tried to do in the past.

Now it's not that we have no experience with this. We do. This is not a novel concept entirely. I would like to say that this was a vision sent down from our Lord which Joe and I had and claimed credit for. But that would be an untruth, and today is not the day to tell an untruth, especially on this dais.

We do this now to a certain extent. HUD has been doing this for years. You'll hear people talking now about a new idea to work with faith-based organizations. No, we've been doing it for years. We do literally hundreds of millions of dollars with faith-based organizations every year.

Primarily, we build senior citizen housing, through a program called Section 202 -- because at HUD we don't use the English language. Everything is an acronym or a number, you'll see. 202 means senior citizen housing. There's a little dictionary they'll give you in the back of the room which can explain what we really mean, which is often different than what we say.

202 is senior citizen housing and we do that primarily through faith-based organizations. B'nai B'rith and the Jewish Federations will do 20,000 units; Lutheran Services, 40,000 units. But we have not really gotten outside of that arena of activity, outside of senior citizen housing to any extent -- or not nearly the extent we need.

So we want to talk today about a different paradigm, a different partnership that says let's talk about providing these services, but let's talk about doing it through community interfaith, faith-based organizations, like we've done in the past, but to a far greater extent.

A thousand points of light, some people say. Yes, a thousand points of light. Each organization bringing its talent to the table, but a relationship that says government should provide the funding that then generates the power to illuminate the light, not a situation where the faith-based organizations have the responsibility, but don't have the resources to carry it through. A relationship that says you provide the talent, the expertise, and we will provide the funding.

Now we don't have all the funding that we need, but with the good words of the Reverend to pass our budget, I hope they went well-heeded because if we get the budget that we proposed, we can do a lot of what we're talking about and do it in a big way.

I would also argue that this is truly the essential mission of the faith-based organizations anyway, not to provide sympathy, not to provide pity. Nobody's asking for sympathy or pity. They are asking for basic justice, and that is the mission of the faith-based organizations.

We offer a homeless person a blanket and that is a temporary treatment of the symptom, but it doesn't affect the illness. Justice says don't give the homeless person a blanket; provide the affordable housing that the homeless person needs so they're not going to be homeless in the first place. That's what justice would bring.

The theme of justice applies in almost every faith-based context you can imagine. Every person on this panel has their own teachings which will get to essential the same common denominator in terms of providing justice.

Tikkun Olam, the Rabbi would say. Heal the world. Bring charity and justice to the world - tzedakah. Father Joe Hacala will talk to you about Matthew 25. "What you did to the least of mine, you did to me". The Protestants will quote Niebuhr. "Anything short of love is not perfect justice".

This is the concept that comes up over and over and over again. Not justice in the way that this nation has now become familiar with it, not criminal justice. That we know how to do. That we do very well, by the way. We lock up more people than any industrialized nation on the globe.

That is one form of justice, criminal justice, but there are far deeper forms of justice which is what the Good Book really talks about and what your mission really talks about. There's a sense of social justice that we're held to a higher standard as a nation, a more just standard that says don't celebrate your economic success when you still have homeless men and women on the streets; when you have mentally ill people on the streets only because you don't have mental health system.

Where you have victims of domestic violence on the streets only because we don't provide the care and the treatment; that talks about economic justice; that says don't celebrate your high stock market when you have the highest income inequality in 40 years. That gives you nothing to celebrate. When you're more millionaires and more billionaires, but you still have one out of five children sleeping in poverty tonight, the same number you had in the 60s.

You have nothing to celebrate when you still have basic racial injustice in this nation. We don't like to talk about it and we don't like to admit it because it shames us and it should, but if you don't stand up and say it, you are condemned to live with it forever. Racism is alive and well in this nation and we still haven't heeded the words of Martin Luther King. We still judge too many by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

What we're saying is we need true justice, social, economic, and racial justice. That's really what we're talking about through these programs.

Your teaching, your mission takes us, I believe, to the most important first step which it says to all of us, it says to society, it is not about us and them. As long as we perpetuate this myth that the homeless person or the person who doesn't have a job is different than me, we will never solve it. As long as we take a posture as a society that says that's someone else's problem not mine, we will never solve it.

Your wisdom, the wisdom that permeates your activity is that there is no "them" and "us", it's all "we". As goes the homeless person, so goes us. As goes the poor boy in Watts tonight, goes us. As goes the poor girl in Cabrini Green in Chicago Public Housing, so goes my daughter.

There is an interconnection. We are all connected. There's a cord that connects me to you, to you, to you, to you, to you, and all of us together. You may not see the cord, it's invisible, but it's there and that cord weaves a fabric. We all go up or we all go down. That's what we mean by community and family and interconnection and interrelation. You can't have these false divisions.

Your loss, your pain, is my loss, is my pain. That is the first step towards really resolving these issues and saying to this nation and saying to this city and saying to this state we're not going to tolerate these conditions anymore. There's no reason, there's no excuse. You have the strongest economy in history. You have the greatest surplus in history. Let's now finally invest in this nation to do the justice that we promised, justice for all. This relationship, this partnership is the new paradigm to make it happen.

Thank you and God bless.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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