My name is Lisa Sawyer. I have been a Real Change vendor for more than four and a half years now. I have been a homeless advocate going on five years. I am also a member of the Resident Action Project’s Statewide Steering Committee Member at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
The Alliance hosted the 2018 Conference on Ending Homelessness in Yakima in May, and I attended. These are a few observations I made while there.
It is always a privilege to attend the conference. I have been going for five years. This year is special to me. I spoke on a panel for the first time. And I did some role-playing called “We Live It, We Change It” based on the experiences of homeless people.
Keynote speaker Toya Andreka-Jean Thomas did an excellent start kicking off the conference. She talked about source of income discrimination by telling her personal story. Source of income discrimination is when a landlord denies a tenant application because they are on Section 8 subsidized housing. She was lucky she found a place in Kent with her daughter. After that, she asked people to get out their phones and dial 800.562.6000 to call their lawmakers today to support source of income discrimination legislation.
I was on a panel with three others who are members of the Resident Action Project: Mr. B from Federal Way, Lisa Striedinger from Centralia and Thanh Nguyen from Seattle. We called our panel Building Power though Community Organizing; we had a packed room. We talked about our work and what we do, what we accomplished in the last year and how to start Resident Action Project chapters in their communities. We have already started chapters in Yakima to Spokane to Richman Country, which is great news.
After the workshop we had people come up to us saying what an awesome job we did. I even talked to a few groups in Seattle and King County area who want to get in on the action. One woman came to us during a break and said she has been coming to the conference for four years and has heard me speak. She said she was proud of me for doing this work, especially when I am unsheltered.
A woman from YWCA in Lakewood saw me in the bathroom and said she also enjoyed the workshop. She was surprised to see all this work about homelessness happening while I am unsheltered. I said that I became homeless again in September. My boyfriend works, and we have been applying for housing but haven’t heard anything back. She gave me a few programs to try.
My final workshop was “We Live It, We Change It,” where we act out experiences of homelessness. I talked about this last year (RC, May 17, 2017, “Real Change vendor acts and advocates at statewide homelessness conference”). In case some of you don’t know, this is not like acting in a theater. The people who do it have been homeless before or are homeless now. We are acting a real story that had happened to a person in the group.
What had amazed me with this workshop is that a lot more people came and got involved with it this year. During the workshop we act out a scene. After we are done, people could come in and take a person’s place and act out what could have gone better in the scene. I enjoy that workshop. It does help out on the action we can do.
I love going to this conference seeing friends from different parts of Washington. Even people who are familiar with homelessness and solutions should come and take refresher courses. There could be things that you didn’t know about homelessness. One thing is for shere: there are always good people going to it.
Because of the longer session at the Washington State Legislature, next year’s conference will be in November. I can’t wait for it, and I hope to see you in Spokane on Nov. 6 and 7 of 2019.
Lisa Sawyer is a Real Change vendor, a member of the Real Change Vendor Advisory Board and a member of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s Resident Action Project. She sells Real Change at Fourth Avenue and Union Street.