On Monday, May 20th, 2019, the Partnership for Strong Communities hosted its second IForum of 2019, Ending Family Homelessness: A Look at Race, Equity, and Prevention Strategies. The event featured a discussion on racial disparities in homelessness in Connecticut and beyond, as well as equity-focused solutions to resolve the family homelessness crisis.
Katie Burton, Program Coordinator at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, kicked off the event with a presentation on identifying and addressing implicit bias. The presentation touched on the history of racial inequities in America, and how the discriminatory policies of the past reverberate in housing and income inequality in the modern day. The presentation also featured a question to audience members on how implicit bias has affected their own work in finding housing.
Shanta Wiley, a speaker with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau, shared her own personal experience with family homelessness. From 2003 to 2012, Shanta and her children intermittently experienced homelessness while living in Hartford. Forced to choose between car payments and rent payments, she and her family often moved; she also spoke of her sons' negative experience with constantly being uprooted from their homes and schools. Her presentation explained her experience with "grey area homelessness" -- she was too poor to afford housing, but didn't qualify for social services. Eventually, Shanta was told by service agencies to fake an addiction or mental illness in order to qualify for available housing programs.
"How did we create a system where people have to lie in order to get help?" she asked.
Afterwards, a panel of local, statewide, and regional speakers discussed their systems' experiences with family homelessness and racial inequity. The panel was moderated by Amber Elliott, Community-Based Improvement Advisory, Community Solutions' North Hartford Partnership.
Panelists included Nancy Hronek of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Mirtha Santana of RiseBoro Community Partnership, Werner Oyanadel of the Commission for Equity and Opportunity, and Liany Arroyo of the City of Hartford's Department of Health and Human Services.
The panel was asked how their organization or sector was working to confront implicit bias in their sector, as well as how we can work to end inequity in housing and homelessness. Answers included eviction prevention through Right to Counsel laws, creation of affordable housing, and working with formerly incarcerated people to increase opportunity upon re-entry.
Beth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University and researcher specializing in family homelessness, was the event's keynote speaker. Her research has helped to illuminate some groundbreaking data and evidence-based solutions to family homelessness.
As more research on family homelessness continues to come in (though Dr. Shinn argues we should fund it at a much higher rate), several interventions have been highlighted as possible solutions to the family homelessness crisis. Mediation for eviction prevention, rental assistance through vouchers, and universal screening for veterans at VA facilities have all shown promise as ways to reduce family homelessness.
Click here for the agenda for the May 2019 IForum.
Bios for the speakers and panelists are linked here.
Slides from Katie Burton's presentation are linked here.
Beth Shinn's slides are available here.