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UNF Hosts Jacksonville Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau Forum

Written by Erin Dupree, University of North Florida

“Laziness.” This was the first response offered when Tamara Patton, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition (ESHC), asked over 100 people for words that represented common perceptions of homeless people. Through her “Jacksonville Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau,” Ms. Patton guided a dialogue that would challenge common misconceptions about homelessness. She provided a forum for three formerly homeless individuals to share their experiences.

The idea for this event, sponsored by the American Democracy Project, began in November 2009 when the University of North Florida sent four students to attend the student-organized “National Resolve to Fight Poverty Conference” at Loyola University at Chicago. There, Cody Spencer, Elizabeth Bittel, Katrina Norbom, and Erin Dupree networked with students from around the country who were serving the impoverished and homeless within their communities. Upon returning to campus, the four were informed, inspired, and energized.

The students met with faculty advisors and local service providers and decided that hosting the “Jacksonville Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau” would offer an opportunity for a dialogue about homelessness within the Jacksonville community. The Speakers’ Bureau is a joint project of ESHC of Jacksonville, Inc. and the National Coalition for the Homeless. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there are dozens of Speakers’ Bureaus around the nation.

The students scheduled the event on the University’s calendar and promoted it within the University and the community at-large. They conferred with the University’s Media Relations Division in the making of a press release. They posted countless fliers around the campus and the community, promoted a Facebook page for the event, and recruited a volunteer videographer.

The event took place Monday, March 22, 2010. Through stories of strength, shame, compassion and misfortune, there were laughter, sighs of empathy, and tears shared between the speakers and the enthralled audience. A question-and-answer period followed, which included ways students could help homeless individuals. These ranged from contacting legislators, to donating apparel suitable for job interviews, to simply saying “Hello” to homeless people one encounters. Over $150 in donations was raised.

While this event was through, it was only the first chapter of their work as activists. More students have since expressed interest, and they are embarking upon new endeavors, both individually and as a group, to ease poverty and homelessness within their community, with this valuable experience as a springboard.

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