Stetson Law’s Amnesty International hosts panel discussion on homeless advocacy

Story by Valeria Obi

Stetson’s Amnesty International hosted a panel discussion, “Demand Dignity Campaign: A Panel on Homeless Advocacy,” on April 10 at Stetson Law in Gulfport.

The purpose was to bring awareness to the plight of those who become homeless, and to provide students with an opportunity to learn how to help the homeless community through legal action and community activism.

Two of the panelists, Allen Parks and Gregory Rolle, were formerly homeless individuals who now serve on advocacy boards for the community. Parks works with the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board, and Rolle serves as the pastor of Justice Ministries for the Holistic Mission Christian Community. Also serving on the panel was Kirsten Clanton, an attorney at Southern Legal Counsel, who is also an advocate for the issue of homelessness.

“We had to find ways to get out of our situation, by selling copper wire or selling fish on the sidelines,” said Rolle. “Even with doing that, there is still a lack of dignity in the homeless community — feeling ashamed because of the shoes on our feet or because we can’t use a public restroom.”

The Demand Dignity Campaign is an international campaign to ensure that those who are homeless or in poverty have basic human rights. Some of these rights include the right to clean water and the right to access public restrooms.

Public policy is based on the premise that society wants homeless individuals to get out of poverty and be integrated back into the workforce and society, but the panel argued that local laws and ordinances often hinder the only opportunities homeless people have to get out of dire situations.

“What struck me about this discussion was the lack of concern from the community and local government officials,” said second-year law student Katherine Heffner. “As soon-to-be lawyers, I feel this issue is of integral importance and feel that we should familiarize ourselves with the plight of the homeless so that we can use our talents to help them.”