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Education school symposium to look at causes, reality of homelessness

The University of Houston-Victoria School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development is preparing to host a two-part symposium on homelessness and how communities can help with the issue.

Fred Litton

The first session of the Homelessness Symposium will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in UHV University North, Room 111, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The second symposium session will be March 7 at the same time and location. Both events are free and open to the public.

“Homelessness is an issue that touches every community in the world,” said Fred Litton, dean of the school. “This symposium will give members of our community the opportunity to take a frank look at how our area is impacted and consider ways that we can help address the issue. Our goal for this first session is to give homelessness a face and focus on educating the public about the possible causes.”

Paul Carlson

During the first session, attendees will listen to presentations by Yvonne Rossman, family and KIDZ Connection coordinator for the Victoria Independent School District; Lisa Griffin, president of the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition; and Tim Stahlke, senior coordinator for the Texas Homeless Education Office. The presentations will feature videos, pictures and stories about homeless people in the Victoria area, said Paul Carlson, UHV professor of education and one of the symposium coordinators.

For Griffin, the problem of homelessness first piqued her interest about 10 years ago when she was substitute teaching.

“I kept hearing students talking about where they would sleep that night or how long they would be allowed to stay in one place or another,” she said. “It just hit me that so many of these students don’t know where they’re going to go when they leave school each day. I hope that through these presentations, we’ll be able to give people a clearer picture of some of the causes of homelessness and who it impacts.”

After the three main speakers give their presentations, there will be a panel discussion featuring the speakers as well as representatives from the United Way, Christ’s Kitchen, the Victoria Advocate and the Gulf Bend Center. The panel and a following question-and-answer session with the audience will be moderated by Carlson and Tammy Nobles, VISD director of student services. 

One of the topics that will be discussed during the panel portion of the symposium is the misconception that homeless people created their situations and should take care of them on their own, Carlson said.

“While in a few cases that is true, there also are people, including families with children, who lost everything because of circumstances outside of their control, such as an unexpected illness or lost employment,” Carlson said. “One of the most recent demonstrations of this was Hurricane Harvey. Many of the most drastically impacted families were those already living paycheck to paycheck, and then they lost everything when this massive storm came through. Because they were already struggling to get by before the storm, they had no way to recover.”

One of the clearest illustrations from Hurricane Harvey was how unknowingly close to homelessness so many families can be, Carlson said. Even families that have plenty of resources can find themselves facing circumstances that can lead to homelessness. And often the people most at risk are children who must deal with lack of food, safety issues, health problems and other dangers.

During the second session, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about and contribute ideas on how to have a positive impact on homelessness in the area. For more information, contact Carlson at carlsonp@uhv.edu or 361-570-4189.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.