Guest post by Gino Nuzzolillo, Leah Abrams and Varun Prasad | Duke University Delegation to Brown University Homelessness and Poverty Summit
As advocates with the Community Empowerment Fund in Durham, it would make sense for us to be familiar with our student counterparts in Chapel Hill. In reality, we ended up traveling 663 miles to finally meet them.
Over the weekend of February 23rd, Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), a student group at Brown University, hosted the inaugural Summit on Homelessness and Poverty for student-led organizations doing anti-poverty work in their local communities. Three Duke students were able to attend the conference on behalf of multiple Duke organizations—namely, the Community Empowerment Fund, Duke Partnership for Service, and the Coalition for Alleviating Poverty.
Our workshop leaders and keynote speakers, like Dr. Sam Tsemberis and Dr. James O’Connell, shared impressive and innovative ideas addressing poverty. Most importantly, however, the conference reminded us of the need for strong partnerships among student groups across campuses. At Duke we devote most of our energy to forming partnerships between the city and the University. While this focus is crucial to our work, it can often distract us from broadly recognizing coalitions of student organizations across the country engaging in similar social justice work.
Ultimately, our work is only effective if it addresses the stated needs of the Duke and Durham communities. We work in tandem with our community partners and allies in Durham to listen to the specific needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty in our own backyard.
Throughout the weekend, we found community in workshops centered on media advocacy, LGBTQ homelessness, and trauma-informed care, among others. We found community not anchored by location, school, or background, but rather by a shared commitment to eradicating homelessness and systemic poverty. Having learned techniques and strategies employed by other students, we left with a better understanding of our unique environment and dedication to economic justice in the Durham and at Duke.
Each of us was struck by different stories and by different people. We heard from Dr. James O’Connell, who has dedicated his medical career to serving the streets of Boston. We met the students behind Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE) who do direct outreach nightly in Providence, Rhode Island. And of course, we met the incredible students at UNC Chapel Hill who engage in financial empowerment advocacy with CEF. Clearly, our social justice work differs from place to place, but we are united by a recognition of the humanity of those pushed to the margins of society. We feel privileged to have learned from every conference attendee.
Ultimately, our work is only effective if it addresses the stated needs of the Duke and Durham communities. We work in tandem with our community partners and allies in Durham to listen to the specific needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty in our own backyard. However, taking a weekend to remember the universality of this work and the student-led energy by which it is sustained was an unmatched experience. It will surely refocus our efforts and energize our work back home.