Congresswomen will be among the speakers at the virtual event.
Poverty and homelessness are scars on American society, but there are those who fight to combat and eradicate them.
The Poverty and Homelessness Conference (PHC) is Saturday, April 23 from 1-4 p.m. The virtual event is free and will be streamed live via Zoom.
The PHC brings together individuals, organizations, agencies, scholars, philanthropists, faith-based organizations and others to discuss poverty and homelessness, provide services and find solutions.
“We are really excited about the conference. We want to be inclusive. This is truly a grassroots movement,” commented Dr. Ranji Shankar-Brown, the event’s founder.
Shankar-Brown is also a professor and chair of social justice education at Stetson University and vice-president of the National Homelessness Coalition.
Confirmed speakers for the conference include US Congressmen Maxine Waters and Cori Bush; Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization of Women; executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare Ruth White; National Homelessness Coalition Executive Director Donald Whitehead; and Autumn Hope Millet, child protection and adoption advocate.
A pre-conference program titled Bring America Home Now (BAHN) Women, Families Children/Youth Launch will take place on Friday, April 22, from 2-4 p.m.
“A popular movement”
The PHC has grown significantly since its inception in 2013.
“It was amazing. We started this to amplify problems and find solutions in Florida, including here locally in Volusia County. This is now a national conference with speakers and attendees from around the world,” Shankar-Brown replied.
“It’s not just a conference; it is a popular movement. We end with calls to action. We have been able to create school pantries, showers and hygiene stations for families, provide mentorship programs for homeless youth, share resources, provide professional development and more. Last year, the PHC went virtual due to COVID-19.
“The pandemic has created challenges. This took place on campus and in person. There are elements around community building intentionally built into the conference,” Shankar-Brown commented.
“The pandemic has driven us to innovate and see how we can expand our reach. We had a waiting list each year, but we could only accommodate so many on campus. We are now reaching people all over the world.
Homelessness and poverty go hand in hand. Poverty often leads to homelessness.
Shankar-Brown explained, “They are intertwined and interconnected. Many families and individuals living in extreme poverty are one paycheck away from being homeless. Many homeless people have struggled in poverty most of their lives. Poverty is a root of homelessness. You cannot separate the two.
Homelessness and poverty affect African-American and Latino populations in greater numbers.
In 2019, black families made up 52% of all homeless families according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“We can’t talk about homelessness without talking about racial inequalities in society. America has a long history of racism. We see great disparities in black and brown communities across the United States,” Shankar-Brown said.
“That’s very true here in Florida. We’re starting to see black, Latino, and native communities with high rates. including some Asian and Pacific Islander communities that are small.
Children and poverty
Children and even students often face poverty and homelessness.
According to the Movement for Black Lives, 33% of African American and Native American children live in poverty while 25% of Latino children live below the poverty line in the United States.
It has been reported that 60% of homeless people in families are children under the age of 18 and 4.2 million young people between the ages of 13 and 25 are homeless.
“It is unacceptable, criminal and shameful to live in one of the richest countries in the world and to have so many people and families, especially children and young people without basic human rights,” Shankar-Brown said. .
Add to that rising food, gas, house and rent prices, homelessness and poverty are getting worse.
Shankar-Brown pointed out, “The cost of everything is going up. We have a lack of affordable housing in the United States. Central Florida where we are located is one of the worst. Those who have two jobs cannot afford an apartment. We lack affordable housing, a living wage and more.
Impact of the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has also increased the numbers.
“The pandemic has exacerbated and amplified homelessness and poverty in our country. We are seeing phenomenal growth in homelessness across the country. Some communities have seen homelessness increase by 40-50%,” noted Shankar-Brown.
The ultimate goal is to end poverty and homelessness.
Shankar-Brown emphasized, “We have more than enough resources in our country to end and prevent homelessness. It will take all of us galvanizing, organizing and pushing for change.
Stetson’s partners for the conference include Volusia County Schools, National Organization for Women, NAACP, National Coalition for the Homeless, Volusia United Educators (VUE), Bring America Home Now and Florida Education Association (FEA).
Financial donations can also be made online. Register online at www.stetson.edu/phc-registration.
For more information, visit www.stetson.edu/artsci/education/home/phc.php.