Niagara University Hosts Conference on Poverty and Homelessness

March 15, 2013  |  by Michael Freedman

  • Poverty Conference

    Rhonda O'Conner, LCMSW, director of Visions for Change, was the keynote speaker for Friday's conference.

  • Dr. David Taylor

    Dr. David Taylor, director of Niagara University's Institute for Civic Engagements, addresses the audience.

  • Sister Beth Brosmer

    Sister Beth Brosmer, of the Heart, Love and Soul food pantry, speaks from the podium in Dunleavy Hall.

  • Poverty Conference

    Sister Beth Brosmer smiles with Rhonda O'Conner, LCMSW, director of Visions for Change.

Approximately 125 people attended a March 8 conference at Niagara University that was intended to address the issues of poverty and homelessness in the local community.

The daylong Circles Out of Poverty Conference was co-sponsored by the Niagara County Coalition for Services to the Homeless and the Niagara Falls/Niagara County Continuum of Care in partnership with Niagara University.

“This conference came about as the result of numerous conversations within the various committees of the CoC and Coalition looking for ways to identify, problem solve and impact the cycle of poverty that exists in our county,” said Dr. David Taylor, director of the Institute for Civic Engagement at Niagara University. “We are now trying to identify and educate people on what poverty looks like in Niagara County and what all of us, as community advocates, can do to address what is really a complex issue.”

Attendees were welcomed to the event by Anthony Restaino, commissioner of the Niagara County Department of Social Services. Restaino, who began serving as commissioner in 2000, also informed participants of the current state of poverty in the county.

Following Restaino’s remarks, keynote speaker Rhonda O’Connor, LCMSW, spoke about how her organization, Visions For Change, inspires and equips underprivileged individuals to meet their goals and establish financial stability. As director of the Syracuse-based nonprofit, O’Connor is responsible for the implementation, development and fiscal oversight of the National Circles initiative within Onondaga County and for the growth of Circles in the northeastern United States.

Other highlights of the conference included:

  • Kathy Granchelli, C.E.O. of the YWCA of Niagara, discussed the 10-year plan to reduce the incidence of homelessness and move families into permanent housing was adopted by the Niagara County Legislature in October 2012, and how it is being utilized to guide the work of the Niagara County Coalition and CoC.
  • Robyn Krueger, executive director at Community Missions of Niagara Frontier, offered an update on the work of the CoC, a coordinated body of public and community-based providers tasked with identifying community needs and building a system to address those needs. She also provided information on how usage of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) can be used as a resource to combat homelessness.
  • Niagara University graduate student Brittany McMahon presented the results of her study on homelessness in Niagara Falls and Niagara County. The research project collected statistical data as well as anecdotal evidence from service providers and other stakeholders throughout Niagara County with a focus on Niagara Falls.
  • Roundtable discussions on several related issues, including rural poverty, transportation, employment and job training, homelessness and housing, healthcare and food insecurity.

Food for the event was prepared by The Catering Crew, a full-service catering business that hires professionally trained graduates of the Carolyn’s House culinary arts vocational program.

Formalized in September 2011, the purpose of the Institute for Civic Engagement is to reinforce Niagara University’s commitment to the region by strengthening existing community partnerships and forming new town-gown relationships. It serves as the university’s primary point of contact for community members and organizations.

Two of Niagara University’s flagship community-minded programs, Border Community SERVICE and ReNU Niagara, fall under the umbrella of the Institute for Civic Engagement. In addition, the institute collaborates with NU’s EAGLE leadership program and Learn and Serve Niagara to create meaningful service-learning opportunities for students.