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Urban Homelessness

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UN Trip Summary
October 7 , 2010

Garine Palandjian, CIE Graduate Student

Home at Last? The State of the Homeless in Today's Cities


For some of us, this was our very first experience visiting the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.  Each had their individual reason why they chose to participate in today’s UN DPI/NGO briefing on “Home at Last? The State of Homeless in Today’s Cities.”  However, this experience afforded us the opportunity to expand our knowledge on the current conditions of homesslessness and concerns NGOs have in their work with homelessness.  To me, I was most concerned how this would relate to the work I would potentially be doing in the future.  As a graduate student in the comparative and international education program at Lehigh University, we understand the significance of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as well as the issues that are also attached to this noble cause.  After hearing the panel, I realized the effects this has on a child’s educational experience is not only limited to the fact that children who are homeless do not feel like they belong during their schooling experience, but also the role that educators have in order to prepare these individuals for society. 

There were five guest speakers on the panel who presented to representatives from international organizations.  They discussed the current state of homelessness and where the role of NGOs are crucial.  All of the guest speakers made the same argument that housing comes first, with it being a basic human right by the United Nations.  Ms. Yamina Djacta, Deputy Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme discussed her experiences with UN-Habitat in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Dr. Carol Canton, a Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and Research Scientist at New York State Psychiatric Institute, focused on the issues of homelessness in the United States of America.  She explained that shelters alone do not solve the problems of homelessness.   Rather, she tries to use research conducted at the Columbia Center for Homelessness Prevention to educate and influence policy makers. 

Mr. Bill Motsavage, Vice President of Independent Living Services at the Valley Youth House, explained the current conditions in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.  He identified three types of homeless kids starting at the age of 15 to be either run-away, throw-away, or give-away.  Later, he explained as all of the other speakers did, that the first step is to get them housed, provide services they need such as transportation to and from work or childcare while they work, and finally, provide them with the opportunity of gaining access to education.  He described how their program has two shelters, one for youth until the age 18 and one for adults.

Speaking from experience, Ms. Shareema Wright, a mother of four children, described that these services helped her family but need to remove aspects of the criteria to allow anyone who is homeless to qualify for these services.  Ms. Serena Copeland, also shared her experiences where she “house-hopped” until she finally benefited from the Valley Youth House Supportive Housing Program.  There, she felt that they actually listened to her and helped her instead of talking down to her as they would a child which is why she felt the services failed her at a young age.  Today, she attends college part time, maintains two jobs, and serves as a member of the Pennsylvania Youth Advisory Board.

Finally, during the question and answer session, Dr. Canton expressed the need for more research to understand the rate of success of these services for homeless individuals experience after rejoining society.  Other main points that were brought up included how homelessness is only “the tip of the iceberg” as Dr. Canton further explained that education and jobs are all areas that need to be addressed as well.  She compared the United States during World War II where everyone had a job, but in today’s economy and issues of outsourcing jobs, the government is responsible to create job opportunities and look after its citizens. 

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