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Finding Shelter

News Feature

News & Events

April 4, 2012

President Dana Mohler-Faria's Task Force to End Homelessness held its fifth annual Spring Forum, focused on "Mental Illness, Social Policy, and Transformation," which brought key advocates for fighting homelessness to campus.

Keynote speaker was Julie Salamon, an activist and prolific author who is chair of the board for Bowery Residents' Committee, an organization that provides care for people suffering from homelessness, addiction and mental illness in New York City.

Much of her talk focused on topics from her book, Rambam's Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give (2003), which outlines eight steps for charitable giving. Relating the steps to providing for homeless populations, Ms. Salamon said the eighth and final step -- self-reliance -- would mean providing the homeless with housing, mental health treatment and additional support to promote self-sufficiency.

"Teach a man to fish, so he can eat for a lifetime," she said, evoking the old adage. "That concept helps us navigate the issue of modern homelessness."

The BRC currently serves more than 10,000 people, with 27 service programs, 600 workers and hundreds more registered volunteers throughout NYC. Ms. Salamon has written numerous award-winning books, including Facing the Wind (2001), The Devil's Candy (1991) The Christmas Tree, (1996), The Net of Dreams (1996), and Wendy and the Lost Boys (2011), which became a New York Times bestseller. Her articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Bazaar, and The New Republic.

The task force's founding chairperson, Dr. Michele Wakin, executive assistant to the president, said the event aimed to raise awareness about homelessness and get people involved in the region and beyond. Attendees were campus community members and dozens of representatives from various regional organizations that fight homelessness, such as Father Bill's and Mainspring in Quincy and Brockton.

The forum highlighted a steady growth in activism at BSU since the forum began five years ago, said Dr. Wakin. New homelessness-battling initiatives include growing partnerships with regional service centers, increased student engagement, and the Institute for Social Justice, currently under construction and set to open next semester. "We have a building momentum on campus," said Dr. Wakin, adding, "The event emphasizes that spirit of coming together."

In his welcoming remarks, President Mohler-Faria said the aim of the forum and other campus initiatives is to work toward eradicating homelessness completely. "We want to end it," he said. "We want to give everyone a place to call home."

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion featuring people who were once homeless as part of the National Coalition for the Homeless -- The Speaker's Bureau. They shared their personal stories of living on the streets and reintegration into society.

Additionally, students presented their research and initiatives that help battle homelessness on campus and beyond. The student-run Social Justice League, along with Dr. Jonathan White, professor of sociology, presented on their Tent City event that raises awareness about homelessness every year. Several students discussed their service trip to Washington D.C., along with their mentor, Diane Bell, director of the Community Service Center.

The goal of the president's task force is to shed a regional spotlight on homelessness issues through expert teaching, research and student engagement. Additionally, the task force works with local government and business leaders to develop and support policies to end homelessness permanently. (Rob Matheson, '07, University Advancement)

Julie Salamon
President Dana Mohler-Faria
Dr. Michele Wakin

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