An Insider’s View of Advocacy and Civic Engagement
Civic engagement wasn’t always on my radar, in fact, before civic engagement I wanted to be a dental assistant, then moved on to wanting to be a social worker. Civic engagement came into my life after going through homelessness three different times in three different states, most recently in Pennsylvania with my son and daughter. I got the opportunity to tell my story at the Housing Alliance’s Home Matters Day in June 2017 and again in July 2017 with the Housing Alliance in Washington DC at Capitol Hill Day. I have been hooked on advocating for myself and others with similar experiences and the world of civic engagement ever since.
My past year at the Housing Alliance has been filled with great opportunities for me to craft projects and messages and voice my opinion about things as not only a person with lived experience but as a colleague, someone who brings knowledge as a college graduate.
I am also extremely interested in voting rights education, so getting a chance to be co-lead the Housing Alliance’s PA Votes initiative was right up my alley. I had the opportunity to learn and engage with the Housing Alliance’s network. I dipped my toes into the world of voter education and formed close connections with our partner sites. This allowed me to be a guest on the National Council of Negro Women/Rankin Mon Valley’s TV show to spread knowledge of how voting would work for the 2020 Presidential Election.
I am currently co-lead on Listen & Act 4 Housing & Health. This project is near and dear to me because we are actually able (thanks to our amazing partner organizations) to have a conversation with people with lived experience about barriers they are facing in the community. These conversations will be continued through regional policy councils in which these community members will be the voice of those councils. We will work with the regional policy councils to identify potential legislative solutions to the challenges they face in their communities. We want to create a platform, the mechanism, and constancy through which community members will be empowered to advocate for the changes they want in their communities. There is nothing worse than people coming into your community and having a conversation about issues you are having and then leave and not hear anything from them again.
I know how it makes me feel when I tell my story and explain how well the programs we all are advocating for work. It makes me feel powerful. I want all people with lived experience to feel that and use their voice to make a difference in their communities. It is so important to hear and listen to people with lived experiences, it helps us understand firsthand what the issues are that people face.
The Housing Alliance allows me to voice my opinion in other ways as well. I participate in our racial equity/DEI committee, eviction prevention programs, crafting and advocating our policy agenda, and even planning my own advocacy workshop for our annual Homes Within Reach conference in December. The skills I am gaining at the Housing Alliance are one’s that I will relish for a lifetime.
This being my first career, I am still getting an understanding of how the professional world works. It has been quite a journey transitioning from poverty, homelessness, part-time jobs, and being in survival mode as a single mom to having a full-time career and being a degree holding, homeowner, and having a greater purpose in life as a single mom in just a year’s time.
Telling my story about homelessness in these big, beautiful capitol buildings with very important people is what prompted me to figure out how I could do this every day as a career. I loved the rush and wanted to feel it again and this prompted me to explore a career in lobbying. There is no better feeling than figuring out your calling and feeling like you belong somewhere and being able to use you experience to make change.
I am grateful to the Housing Alliance for allowing me to advocate with them as a person who has experienced homelessness and eviction and now as someone who is a part of the organization that allows me to speak to people in positions of power. I am excited to see what we can accomplish together because the greatest thing a person with lived experience can have is someone on their side. I hope to use my story, my experiences, and my work with the Housing Alliance to elevate the voice of people with lived experience.