Six presentations produced a diverse range of concerns, offering the audience six unique views into the complex issues at hand. Several common themes emerged, however, as each presenter touched on the changing face of homelessness, the difficulties posed by the recent economic downturn, and personal experiences.
Professor Bonnie Greenball Silvestri’s course, “Ending Homelessness: How can we work toward social change?” saw University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students provide 18 or more volunteer hours to an agency offering homelessness services. Among the agencies involved were the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, Glasser Schoenbaum, Early Learning Coalition and Gulfcoast Legal Services.
The course marked a somewhat new venture into social activism for USF, blending academic work with hands-on learning. The course took place amidst a in Sarasota, leading Professor Silvestri to remark that it was a “happy day after a big summer.”
Hinning Bolanos began the day by speaking of the increase of families & children affected by homelessness. He spoke of his own experience living with relatives, and the deeply personal feelings that children encounter.
Diane Florez’s presentation explored the issues posed by the housing crisis, discussing how delinquencies and foreclosures can be the start of a slippery slope toward homelessness. She addressed the government programs aimed at curtailing the crises and described them as difficult to navigate and insufficient.
Diana Hartig blended a mix of biblical quotes, the wisdom of Mother Teresa, reflections on the military and facts on the mole people who live under Las Vegas.
Professor Silvestri proudly introduced the next presenter, Shawna Machado, as the incoming president of the Social Justice Initiative. Machado told the audience she had been homeless herself for a year, and described herself as living proof that a strong mentoring is a successful strategy for addressing homelessness.
Miranda Richardson put forth a relatively substantial analysis of recent budget cuts in services. She placed specific emphasis on cuts to education, the Department of Children & Families, health care, civil legal assistance and the Boys & Girls Club. She concluded, “(Florida Gov.) Rick Scott did exactly what you’d do if you wanted to end the state’s future.”
Patrick Walker described working with the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness as the “best opportunity that ever happened to me.” He shared his story of leaving the military and finding himself not knowing how to find a job. Veterans — who comprise 11 percent of the homeless population — have services, he added, but they often don’t know how to use them.