BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Homelessness and poverty are major issues locally as well as in the U.S.
Stetson University will be addressing the issues next month during its fourth annual Homeless & Poverty Conference (HPC). The conference is Oct. 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the Rinker Fieldhouse, 421 Woodland Blvd., DeLand.
This year’s theme is “Dismantling Oppression & Poverty: Building Inclusive Learning Spaces.’’ Space is still available for residents who want to attend.
“We have really grown in scope and impact. I am excited. This year we will have mayors and representatives from the U.S. Department of Education,” Dr. Ranji Shankar-Brown, PHF founder and director told the Daytona Times.
Shankar-Brown also is associate professor and the Jessie Ball duPont chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University. In addition, she’s on the board of directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
“I started brainstorming this conference when I first came to Stetson. Working on poverty and homelessness is my life’s work,” she remarked.
The keynote speaker of the conference will be Dr. Dana Godek, director of Federal and State Programs for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Godek has worked in four different school systems as a teacher, administrator, public information officer and government relations strategist. She is a certified fundraising executive and has worked in the non-profit industry.
She has served on the College Board as the director of Strategy and Outreach. She also has worked with Palm Beach State College.
Beyond day-to-day issues
Stetson University and Volusia County Schools have partnered for the event. Local students are expected to participate as well.
Topics of discussion at the conference will include poverty awareness, systems of inequity, working with low-income families, nutrition and health implications, art integration and resiliency, responsive curriculum and instruction strategies, housing instability implications, supporting English language learners in poverty, empathy and inclusion, supporting LGBTQ youth in poverty and school leadership practices.
“Participants will get to look into ways to start to really examine and look at all of the oppressive and systematic issues around homelessness. We will look beyond the day-to-day issues but at the systematic things that are creating homelessness,” Shankar-Brown explained.
“How can we as communities start to dismantle these things and make things better for all of our brothers and sisters? This conference really gives knowledge on what homelessness is from a social justice perspective.’’
Homeless children in schools also will be discussed, which affects many children in the Volusia County school system.
“Things are getting worse when we talk about child poverty in the U.S. and in Florida. We know Daytona and the surrounding area has some of the highest levels of child and family homelessness, especially school age children,” Shankar-Brown noted.
“Children are often not a part of these conversations but need to be. This conference deals with the educational, socio and economic well-being of children as well as how communities can best support children and positively impact their lives.’’
Shankar-Brown reiterated, “We look at it from a national angle and see how it trickles down into Florida and our area. There are depressing facts. Homelessness is rising.
Sometimes people just aren’t knowledgeable. They don’t really understand and just have not experienced homelessness and poverty. We must work to break down the stereotypes and false narratives that exist.”
Low jobs, high rent
In Daytona low-paying jobs and high rent contribute to homelessness.
“The minimum wage is below what someone needs to live. We also have a lack of affordable housing. You pair that with the fact that there are families with parents working that can’t afford a place to live,” Shankar-Brown emphasized.
“There are single mothers working three jobs but can’t afford a place to live. It’s criminal.
It calls for us to come together as a community and do something about the issue.’’
Breaking down the oppressive practices in society is the key.
Shankar-Brown explained, “In reality poverty, homelessness and economic disadvantage are all tightly to other systematic oppressive mechanism like racism, sexism and more.
We don’t like to think these things aren’t connected but they are, especially when you know the heritage and history of this nation.
“Even education plays a part. Education opens doors but many times practices in the school system are more oppressive for those in poverty. We need to work on policies for dismantling oppressive structures that create homelessness.”
Shankar-Brown sees hope for the future.
“One of the beacons of hope that I find is that we do have passionate individuals in our communities that do care and want to make a difference,” she said.
Plans are in the works for local municipalities to erect more shelters for the area’s homeless. Halifax Urban Ministries, a Daytona Beach-based organization, is working on Hope Place, a shelter for homeless families.
“It’s vital that we have shelters. We have such a severe shortage of homeless shelters in the U.S., even in Florida,” Shankar-Brown added.
“We need facilities to help those struggling and facing the harsh realities of living in homelessness. Shelters help people start to change. I would love to see our communities come together and build more family shelters, which are even at a greater lack,” added Shankar-Brown.
For more information on the conference or to register, visit http://www.stetson.edu/artsci/education/home/phc.php.