Building our own Leadership: Community Advocates Advocating for Change
In Los Angeles County, there continue to be advances towards the goal of ending chronic and veteran homelessness. The solution, providing an affordable safe home, has been established by multiple studies. But many times it takes more than ‘facts’ to change the hearts and minds of people, especially decision-makers who view homelessness as unsolvable and the individuals experiencing homelessness as hopeless.
In order to put a face on the issue and integrate stories to bring the facts to life, in September of 2013, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) launched the Supportive Housing Community Advocates program as a pilot project in partnership with A Community of Friends, Housing Works, Skid Row Housing Trust, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development/Clifford Beers Housing, and Survivors’ Truths. The pilot has been such a success they are planning on continuing and growing the project.
The project was designed to support formerly homeless residents of permanent supportive housing to effectively advocate for themselves and their communities. CSH developed a year-long curriculum that combines monthly educational trainings on topics such as housing policy, advocacy, storytelling, narrative development, and public speaking with individual coaching sessions, as well as numerous opportunities to advocate at local, state, and federal levels.
CSH sees the Advocates’ stories of their lived experience as critical to reframe public perception and build the public and political will necessary to end homelessness. In a recent CSH newsletter reported that through their Community Advocates’ stories we can learn what works in solving homelessness. And more importantly they wrote, we learn about the remarkable potential of the men and women who have made this journey.
The experiences of and direct advocacy by the Community Advocates expands the public policy debate and the broader civic dialogue. CSH writes in their newsletter that by understanding the human side of ending homelessness, we open the door to new allies and partners to share our common belief that homelessness can be ended. We also open the door to long time believers to see that not only can we end homelessness; we can harness the potential and energy of the people with lived the experience of homelessness to be our partners in this movement.
Community Advocate Ruby shared about her experience, “I got to speak at the state capitol. The building was so beautiful, I started crying. I never would have thought that I would be in a place like that. The legislator was so moved by our stories, he said ‘I have put up a blinder to avoid seeing homelessness, but hearing your stories, I won’t be able to ignore it now… you’re really advocating for all those who don’t have a voice.’’
Katy Heins, Senior Organizer, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project