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Building Skills for Housing Justice at COEH

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The 29th annual Conference on Ending Homelessness (COEH) welcomed more than 500 folks from the housing justice world earlier this month in Spokane. The Resident Action Project was there in full force, joined by direct-service providers, housing developers, funders and elected officials.

Although coming from different aspects of the housing and homelessness world, the COEH purpose was clear: To build skills and share resources to see housing justice become a reality in our state.

More than 37 sessions were offered to participants across the 1.5 day event, with session topics ranging from the need to have an equity approach to coordinated entry to decolonizing systems to landlord mitigation and everything in between. Sessions were hosted by dozens of parts to the Housing Alliance (to see the full Housing Alliance Member List, click here).

RAP hosted a workshop on the second day on building power for statewide change, and RAP Steering Committee leader Mindy Woods co-hosted a session previewing the 2020 legislative agenda for the Housing Alliance. PDF versions of all presentations that used slides will be added to wliha.org in the coming days and we’ll post a link to them in our upcoming newsletters. 

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Ren Autrey: Navigating this World While Homeless, and Still Human

The following is a speech by Ren Autrey, Resident Action Project Steering Committee leader, which she presented at the annual Bring Washington Home fundraiser in Seattle on Oct. 15, 2019. She bravely shares her story of resilience and healing, explores how community is essential in the journey of overcoming homelessness.

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My name is Ren Autrey, I am a Certified Peer Counselor, a Resident Action Project Statewide Steering committee member and I co-run a grassroots non profit that advocates and works with people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver, WA’s 49th District. Leading up to all of that I had previously spent some time without a home living in my van and couching with friends and family from California to Washington while I was “in-between projects.” Like many folks who find themselves in this position, I was navigating some grief, mental health and money issues that come from the instability of life during times of change. During these challenges, I was able to gain a new perspective of not only myself but also of other people navigating this world while homeless, and still human.

As a single woman alone with my little dog on the road our only safety was inside our vehicle. And while inside that van, the perception of safety and community slowly slipped away. Each new location and city brought new challenges. Police knocked on my window and told me to move on. Well meaning people taped notes on my window threatening me if I kept my dog safe in that vehicle (with windows only slightly rolled down), that while I went to the bathroom or inside somewhere to shop for supplies they would break the windows and leave us even more exposed to unsafe conditions and the elements. Some days it was all I could do to step outside my vehicle. Living without a home is a daily trauma experience  and recovering from that trauma is not a simple thing.

But I have to ask – is it really possible to heal while still enduring daily traumas living on the streets or in unsafe situations?

We attempt to keep ourselves connected to community, while that same community looks at us sleeping with all of our stuff in our vehicles and RV’s and on the streets with fear and judgement of our circumstances. And we know that look in their eyes. It is really the fear of knowing that they too are only one car accident, one work injury, or one or two partial or late paychecks away from instability or homelessness themselves.

And then when we are the recipients of grace and find opportunity to be housed again, we need to realize that there is a healing process that happens when we go from being homeless to being reconnected to community.  We changed, our responses to situations changed and now it will need to change again. We have to work hard to get into new routines and new communication cycles with the people around us. We have to dig in a MAKE a home safe & comfortable. To do that we NEED a stable and resilient place to call home to learn and practice those skills — This is difficult and not easy when the answer before was just to “move on” and not feel worthy of that conversation or place to be.

Part of what we do in Vancouver with our non-profit Outsiders Inn is to engage in conversation with folks and ask key questions and DEEPLY LISTEN to their answers – We respectfully ask and encourage them to share their stories.

We get to see the human side of our unhoused population’s challenges. They get the opportunity to be heard. Through these stories, this is how the healing begins, for myself and for those I go out and meet and listen to.  It’s simple. We share our stories. We need to build more homes and safe spaces to heal and learn how to speak with confidence – Learn HOW to share our stories effectively – so we not only help others change, but WE continue to grow and change internally from our experiences.

Resident Action Project was a continuation of this process for me and I fell in love with the organization and the people in it right away, I had found my “heart community”.

They too were digging deep into helping some of those same folks and myself bring our stories together for a bigger purpose, to a greater number of people, and possibly a more influential audience. Lawmakers, city, county, and state representatives. And here we are – able to use our stories to be a part of changing policy, laws and perceptions in a grand way.   My fellow RAP members taught me that a little practice and confidence goes a long way in this work! I am grateful for their continued love and support.

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I would have never imagined a few short years ago that this is a journey I would have taken, yet here I am before all of you. I am a mother, a grandmother, a working member of our society, AND I am a person who has experienced mental health struggles and homelessness. I was a strong person already, but through my experiences and perspectives – I am even stronger now.  — I have experienced healing through being a part of something bigger than myself and learning how to effectively advocate around issues that affect all of us. Through the support of the Housing Alliance and the camaraderie with other Resident Action Project members, I have been able to deepen my skills around community organizing and building movements and I have been a part of creating and expanding something I am proud of.

But my community goes beyond my city, it is also my state and includes most of you in this room.

And — I am proud to be one of many in a community that cares.  I am proud to be a part of a statewide movement that works on showing what a caring and compassionate community can do when we come together. I am proud to help build those safe places we will call home — to share our stories and continue to heal our community – while we continue to collaborate with all of you to find compassionate community responses to homelessness – together.  Thank You.

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2019 #OurHomesOurVoices

This week, RAP members are hosting events in communities across WA to call on our elected representatives and the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fund more affordable housing! Join us!

Find an event on the RAP calendar.

No events near you? Print a poster or grab a Twitter frame, snap a photo, and post it to social media with #OurHomesOurVoices — your image can be added to the Twitter Storm to elected representatives!

Find more photos on our Photo Slideshow!

Here’s a photo teaser…

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Vancouver, WA

Lewis County, WA

Seattle, WA

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Spring 2018: Conference on Ending Homelessness

Where We've Been

Winter 2017-2018: 8 Weeks of Action for Homes

After the Statewide Summit for Homes, we held a day-long meeting with RAP Steering Committee members to decide which policies to focus on, given the response from people at the Summit. Ultimately, we decided to focus on 1) building more low-income and affordable housing, and 2) banning statewide source of income discrimination.

We wanted to get every RAP member in Washington involved before and during the first few weeks of the legislative session to put early pressure on lawmakers and to give RAP members the resources to be effective advocates.

Every Monday, starting Dec. 5, RAP members received an email with all of the actions they could take, resources they could learn from, and different ways to get involved. The first week, we started with a Strategy Call to walk people through the 8 Weeks of Action, and the following weeks, we had a variety of different actions like: Letters to the Editor campaigns to push for more affordable housing, calling lawmakers asking them to pass bills that would help our policy priorities, door belling in districts to take photos of residents who live in affordable housing to post on their lawmakers’ social media pages, and so on.

The 8 weeks culminated in a in-person lobby day in Olympia, where we wore hard-hats and distributed small shovels to every single lawmaker there, to show them how many shovel-ready projects were on the line if lawmakers did not pass the Capital Budget with a strong investment in the Housing Trust Fund.

It was an intense eight-week period, but we were able to have our voices heard and to create the change we wanted to see. A week after our in-person lobby day, lawmakers passed the Capital Budget! We also reached 4000 people through our social media actions, made 75 phone calls, and reached 148 lawmakers (including the governor)!

The eight weeks have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped work. Instead, we are gearing up for even more events and actions in this fight for housing justice.

 

Where We've Been

Fall 2017: Statewide Summit for Homes

On Saturday, October 7th, the Resident Action Project held its first Statewide Summit for Homes. More than eighty people packed the Southside Commons and filled the space with conversations about the primary solutions that RAP should fight for to address the housing and homelessness crisis.

At the beginning of the meeting, we welcomed everyone into the space. We introduced folks to RAP and told the story of how we arrived at the Summit. We did an initial presentation about the information that we collected in the listening sessions and provided people with handouts to look at the data for themselves. Then, we turned to the group to find the solution.

Inspired by the World Café, RAP leaders on the Statewide Steering Committee and others who attended the cross train facilitated small group conversations based on each of the problem areas that we identified. The goal of each of the small group conversations was for the participants to consider the listening session data for that theme area and begin to brainstorm solutions that the group would then vote on at the end of the day. We had three rounds of fifteen minute conversations, and we asked people to rotate to a different theme each time.

Following our World Café conversations, participants had the opportunity to hear from Representative Nicole Macri and Michele Thomas, policy staff from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, about the political landscape in Olympia.

After lunch, we gave each of the table facilitators the opportunity to report out on the solutions identified at their tables. From there, we asked the group to vote on the issues that they want to recommend to the Statewide Steering Committee to prioritize in the 2018 legislative session. Each of the participants was given three dots that they could disperse however they liked.

The issues that rose to the top were:

  • build more low-income and affordable housing
  • change the law that makes urinating in public a sex offense
  • ban statewide source of income discrimination
  • develop a legal department that handles all housing discrimination issues
  • do away with statewide ban on rent control
  • establish a “homeless court” based on a model for other states that offers alternatives to fines, jail, and to people to services

Even though it was a long, action-packed day, there was a lot of energy in the room as we closed. Several people lingered – appreciating each other’s company and the work that we’d done together.

Where We've Been

Summer 2017: Listening Sessions

In early 2017, RAP’s first statewide steering committee formed and began making plans for 2017. After releasing an extensive Toolkit for Organizing in May, RAP launched its first listening tour. Since the beginning, we had been struggling with question: how do we do democracy well? How do we make sure that we are being inclusive in RAP’s decision-making processes? How do we make sure that RAP’s work actually reflects the needs of the communities that we seek to serve? The answer that we landed on was to start by sitting down with people to listen.

Our goals for the listening tour were to learn more about how the affordable housing and homelessness crisis was impacting communities locally and to invite more people to join our network. We visited twelve communities around the state: Kent, Lynnwood, Federal Way, Centralia, Bellingham, Kirkland, Bellevue, two in Tacoma, and three in Seattle. During each listening session, we gave people a brief introduction to the Resident Action Project, explained our belief in systemic change to impact many people’s lives, and promoted systems thinking. Then, we asked people: what were the biggest challenges that you faced the last time that you tried to find a new home, and what are the challenges that your larger communities face? We gave people individual reflection time and discussed in small and large groups.

Every listening session that we did was unique. It was clear that the housing crisis is impacting each area in different ways, but it was also clear that there were trends between all of the communities that we visited. Because we left the listening sessions open-ended, we gathered a ton of information. The best way that we came up with to present it back to the group was to identify all of the unique problems that were identified and organize them into larger themes or problem areas: finding an affordable place to live, housing discrimination, available housing doesn’t meet diverse needs and is inaccessible, and the criminalization of homelessness and additional barriers that occur after someone becomes homeless.