For many, living on the street or in a shelter is the only means of survival. Tuesday, students and experts alike gathered to discuss how to give shelter residents a better option.

Tuesday afternoon in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, experts spoke about the problem of homelessness in Philadelphia to a group of Master of Social Work students interning for the Homeless Health Initiative. The event was held in honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs through Saturday.

According to panelist David Dunbeck, homeless services started in the 1980s with outreach work and then developed into housing programs. There are now many organizations that aid the homeless, such as Housing First, Homeless Services at Horizon House and Project H.O.M.E.

Karen Hudson, program manager for Homeless Health Initiative, shared her experiences working with homeless families.

“At least one in every 50 children is homeless,” she said, adding that the majority of children in shelters are no older than 5 years.

The leading cause of homelessness for these families is the lack of permanent affordable housing. Within the past 10 to 15 years, the population of homeless families has risen, Hudson said.

HHI continues to help these families by providing them with healthcare services, health education and shelter, in addition to raising awareness on a community level.

“Homelessness is so diverse in who is affected by it and the causes and conditions of it,” said Jeanette Bowles, one of the event coordinators and a MSW student.

Kristie Thomas, assistant director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence and Social Policy and Practice Ph.D. student, addressed this diversity by discussing “Intimate Partner Violence and Housing,” which includes the economic as well as emotional, physical and sexual effects of domestic violence.

Women who suffer from IPV are four times more likely to become homeless than women who do not experience it, according to Thomas. Domestic violence shelters exist specifically for these women, concentrating heavily on giving victims emotional help.

However, shelters are generally very dangerous, according to panelist Jeff Draine, so many find the street safer.

“I really value these kinds of forums because I think so often in this profession people get caught up with what their agency is doing,” said Christine Boisvert, who attended the panel and is in her second year at SP2. “It’s really important … to initiate more of a collaboration to combat these issues.”

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