By Andrew Anderson
Like so many others in the U.S., I found myself homeless when I was released from prison. That was two years ago; I’m still homeless today.
Soon after returning from prison, I was invited to participate in a meeting with the People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC). PFFC is a DC-based group led by people with lived experience of homelessness who are working to end housing instability in the DC metro area through advocacy, outreach, and peer mentoring. At my first meeting we talked about how we could tackle the issue of homeless encampments - how we could reach out to individuals who live in encampments and how to talk to city councilmembers about the issues encampment residents face. I didn’t know a lot about encampments but wanted to learn more, so I kept going to meetings and eventually became a PFFC member. Over time I learned a lot about outreach, how to make connections with DC councilmembers, and I eventually testified at a public hearing about what it’s like being a returning citizen experiencing homelessness. This testimony resulted in me talking one-on-one with a councilmember, which inspired me to participate more with PFFC.
PFFC works on five initiatives: a public restroom initiative to ensure people experiencing homelessness, and others, have access to public bathrooms; establishing a universal right to housing in D.C.; anti-discrimination, currently focused on adding homelessness as a protected class under D.C.’s Human Rights Act; organizing the annual homeless memorial vigil in DC to honor those who died without the dignity of a home; and COVID-19 outreach. I spend a lot of my time with our COVID-19 outreach group, formed in response to the pandemic. A lot of programs are no longer available with places being closed, so every week we go out to homeless encampments and provide people with clothes, food, toiletries, and information about where they can get services.
Over the past year I’ve grown as a leader in the group, and now serve as PFFC’s director of outreach. This didn’t happen overnight; it took time. But my desire to help people who are going through what I am pushes me forward. I’m proud to be a part of it. Because of my time with the PFFC, in addition to my personal experience, I am leading outreach efforts to returning citizens experiencing homelessness. I’m hoping to use the skills I’ve developed to build relationships with my peers and create programs that support people leaving the criminal justice system.
In addition to my work with PFFC, I also have a part-time job as an advocacy fellow with Miriam’s Kitchen (MK). MK is an organization in DC dedicated to ending chronic homelessness through meals, case management, street outreach, permanent supportive housing, and advocacy. In this position I’m able to use my voice and experience to advocate for solutions to homelessness, and I get to engage with my unhoused peers to discuss how they can also get involved. As I do, my co-workers believe that people who have experienced homelessness should be leading the work to end homelessness. I’m grateful to be on this team.
As an advocacy fellow, I focus on how we can improve housing systems and get rid of the barriers a lot of people face when trying to find a place to live. For example, processes could be improved to make sure people can get their vouchers faster. Also, DC needs to do a lot more to prevent landlords from discriminating against people with vouchers, who are primarily Black and people of color. The District can prevent this form of racial discrimination by enforcing protections for voucher holders and issuing penalties for those who violate these protections. There are so many things we can do to make things work better for people experiencing homelessness. I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to be involved in this work.
There have been a lot of challenges this past year with COVID, especially for people who are unhoused. My experience while being incarcerated and seeing the instability and struggles of my unhoused neighbors has compelled me to help, even though I am also experiencing homelessness. I firmly believe that my unhoused neighbors are individuals with goals and desires, and that we need to work together to create a housing system that treats us like human beings. My work with PFFC and MK is about making changes for our unhoused neighbors to have a better life.
If you are interested in learning more about People for Fairness Coalition and Miriam’s Kitchen, please visit their websites at pffcdc.org and miriamskitchen.org.
By Zella Knight
The Resident United Network (RUN) of Los Angeles is a great team of leaders and advocates, and I am honored to have been recently elected as the president of our group. Our aim is to maintain a path for more housing and to increase the capacity of residents of affordable housing, housing developers, service providers, and housing justice advocates.
RUN LA is geographically and demographically diverse, representing rural, suburban, and urban areas. RUN is a first-of-its-kind model for building power among residents living in affordable housing and supportive housing programs. We seek to build leadership development, relationship building and collective power to align all stakeholders to the cause of housing justice and the clarion call to end homelessness.
My identity as a disabled American descendant of slaves and a generational activist, with personal lived experience of homelessness, housing instability and insecurity, makes me passionate for seeking solutions that will end the continued devaluation and disposal of marginalized people created by institutional and systemic policies, structures, and systems. These are the contributors to the lack of affordable housing and the increased numbers of Blacks and persons of color who are homeless. RUN LA works to ensure that those of us who have lived the experience are at the center of the decision-making process for new rental housing from development to implementation. RUN LA seeks to eliminate every social barrier, from racism, sexism, and ableism to gender bias and economic bias (such as source-of-income discrimination), especially as these injustices relate to housing policy.
RUN LA, through its community and partner engagement, will continue to strive to win transformative national, statewide, and local affordable housing and homeless policy change. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, RUN LA and its partners will continue to seek that residents and others who are in vulnerable situations are protected to the fullest. As a forever advocate and leader, it is my mission to make the comfortable uncomfortable until transformative change becomes action - providing solutions and outcomes, not rhetoric.
I am not in this alone. Our movement is constantly growing, and I am grateful to RUN LA’s other excellent leaders such as Verica Mancich, Emily Martiniuk, Coach Ron Crockett, Theresa Winkler, and Andrew Ito, to name a few. Our work toward success is just beginning!