Students, community leaders, policy makers discuss homelessness at Legislative Policy Forum

Audience at the 20th Legislative Policy Symposium
Legislative Chambers during the Legislative Policy Symposium on October 26.

Addressing homelessness, including the implications for public policy, was the focus of the 20th Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium held Friday, October 26, 2018 at the Onondaga County Legislative Chambers. Syracuse University students in Falk College’s School of Social Work met with community leaders and activists, legislative representatives, and mental health experts, to discuss pressing issues involving the state of homelessness in Central New York and beyond, the health and well-being of people who are homeless, and the implications for public policy and social work practice interventions.

“The James L. Stone Legislative Policy Day is a dynamic learning experience for all,” says Keith Alford, director of the School of Social Work. “Students, faculty, government officials, local and national presenters, and concerned community members all come together to problem solve with a goal of proposing policy change through the lens of social and economic justice.”

A signature event in the School of Social Work, the annual symposium has focused on a wide range of topics, such as gun violence, the opioid epidemic, corrections and mental health systems, poverty, foster care, among others. The symposium is made possible by the generosity of the former Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health and former Chair of the Falk College Board of Visitors, alumnus James Stone, MSW ’64, who attended this year’s event.

Dr. Robert Okin, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, delivered the keynote address, “Tackling the Complex Problem of Homelessness,” which explored homelessness and what it reveals about social justice in the United States, among other topics. Dr. Okin previously served as the former Chief of Psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital and former Commissioner of Mental Health in Vermont and Massachusetts. He is the recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Human Rights Award and author of the book, Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street.

Dr. Okin also joined the panel discussion, “The Lived Experience: Fears, Resilience, and Action,” with fellow panelists Mark Horvath, Founder of Invisible People and Invisible People.TV, Jawanza James Williams, Statewide Organizer for VOCAL-NY, and Al-Amin Muhammad, Founder of We Rise Above the Streets Recovery Outreach, Inc. and recipient of the School of Social Work’s 2018 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award. The discussion was moderated by Falk College School of Social Work Assistant Professor Yvonne Smith.

During the day-long event, there were a series of three other panel discussions. Falk College School of Social Work Assistant Professor Ryan Heath moderated the panel, “State & County Legislatures: How they Work & How You Can Work with Legislators” with incoming Onondaga County Executive, Hon. Ryan McMahon II, Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, as well as Hon. Al Stirpe, Assembly Member of New York State Assembly District 127 and member of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Hon. Andrew Hevesi, Assembly Member, District 28, New York State Assembly & Chair of Assembly Social Services Committee, Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead, National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services, SUNY Albany School of Social Work, Jamie Powlovich, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition for Homeless Youth, and Shelly Nortz, the Coalition for the Homeless’ Deputy Executive Director for Policy, were panelists on “Homelessness in New York State: Dimensions, Legislative Interventions & Advocacy,” moderated by Keith Alford, Director and Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, Falk College.

The discussion “Ending Homelessness in Central New York: What’s Being Done and What More Needs to Be Done?” was moderated by Alejandro Garcia, Jocelyn Falk Endowed Professor of Social Work with panelists Dr. Sunny Aslam, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Andrew Lunetta, Executive Director of A Tiny Home for Good, Daniel J. Sieburg, Executive Director of the Rescue Mission, and Megan Stuart, Executive Director of the Housing and Homelessness Coalition of Central New York.

“It was an honor to be a part of the James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium, especially during this milestone event,” says Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy, alumna of the School of Social Work. “This year’s symposium allowed social work students to gain a better understanding of the serious issue of homelessness and why knowledge social welfare policies is critical to their future practice. It also provided an opportunity for each of them to reaffirm their personal and professional commitments to social responsibility and social justice.”

The 20th Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium was organized by Falk College School of Social Work Professor Eric Kingson, in collaboration with Alford and other social work faculty, and MSW graduate assistant and conference coordinator Alexandra Leigh Kerr. Falk College and the School of Social Work also acknowledge the Onondaga County Legislature for its hospitality in making the Legislative Chambers available for the symposium.

For additional information and to view videos of the event, read an article about the symposium from the The National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services.