This past November 18th, in recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, faculty and students from Binghamton University’s Department of Social Work collaborated with the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition to host a screening of the film Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell. A panel presentation and community conversation followed to raise awareness of homelessness, its potential ramifications, and to identify next steps. Binghamton’s mayor, Rich David, opened the event with a brief speech about his ongoing efforts to address homelessness.
The film follows the continuing life story of Erin Blackwell, who was first introduced to audiences 20 years ago in director Martin Bell’s Streetwise, a documentary about youth homelessness. Bell’s follow-up documentary profoundly chronicles the resilience and ongoing traumas encountered by the protagonist over the course of two decades.
The panel included:
- Cassandra Bransford, Associate Professor of social work at Binghamton University and faculty contact for the National Center, who served as moderator;
- Shari Weiss, President of the Executive Board and Chair of the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition, who spoke about developing community partnerships to end homelessness;
- David Wallace, Clinical Director at the LaSalle School (Albany, NY), who spoke about trauma, homelessness, and youth;
- Jessica Peruse, Homeless Team Leader at the VA Medical Center (Syracuse, NY), who spoke about the Housing First model; and
- Jed Metzger, Associate Professor of social work at Nazareth College and the school’s faculty contact for the National Center, who spoke about what we can do to end homelessness and poverty.
The panelists presented their perspective following the screening, answered audience questions, and encouraged audience members to get involved. Continuing education credits were offered to social workers for attending. The event was otherwise free and open to the public.
Donations were solicited for the ongoing Freeze Fund initiative. Both prior to and during the event, students collected non-perishable food items, toothbrushes, socks and foot warmers to hand out in care packages to community members over the frigid winter months.
Ending Homelessness in Binghamton
The city of Binghamton has long been on the forefront of the struggle to eradicate homelessness. In late 2014, Mayor David announced a landmark accomplishment in this effort as part of the national Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. On a single night across the city, not a single veteran experienced unsheltered homelessness, earning Binghamton the distinction of being the first city in the country to meet the Mayors Challenge.
These efforts continue to this day, led in large part by the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition, which coordinates services and conducts the yearly point-in-time count. The Coalitions’ work helps provide critical support to the community and gathers crucial data to secure funding for services both in urban Binghamton and in the surrounding rural counties.
Advancing Social Justice Together
This event supports the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge to End Homelessness and aligns with CSWE’s fifth core competency – advancing human rights and social and economic justice. Homeless or otherwise, our most vulnerable community members deserve better, and it is our responsibility as social workers to help build a social safety net to protect them. This event to raise community awareness is only one step in the broader struggle to end homelessness.
Ultimately, ongoing collaboration among stakeholders is key. Rebecca Rathmell, the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition’s coordinator, said it best:
“It has to be a collaborative effort and everything from street outreach and making sure we’re identifying the youth and the families experiencing homelessness all the way to permanent support of housing.”
We were grateful to be able to collaborate to make this event happen and we at Binghamton University are looking forward to future opportunities moving forward.
About the Author: Michael Cole is a second-year master’s student and Graduate Assistant at the Binghamton University Department of Social Work. He is currently interning at the UHS Wilson Medical Center. In his spare time, he enjoys baking and blogging about social justice.
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