Never could I have imagined where my time at the Washington Low Income Alliance would bring me. In the last 8 months, I went from not knowing that bill numbers were recycled every year to tracking state legislation as it cycled through the session. I got to work with an amazing and creative team that was actively affecting change through community organization, political change, and advocacy. While I did not get to work closely with RAP members and leaders as much as I wanted to due to the shake up with COVID, I am honored to have contributed where I could with newsletters and statewide calls.
As a social work student, the purpose of our internships is to understand how the concepts we learn in class are applied in real life. The university teaches us that the most effective advocacy is done by those who are most touched by the issue. For housing, the Resident Action Project is the gold star that all our lessons point to. From the community input garnered in listening sessions and power hours that inform policy proposals, to having RAP advocates testify and panel to lawmakers – RAP is an outstanding example of what real advocacy looks like.
The highlight of my time at the Alliance is undoubtedly Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day in Olympia. I had been to a few lobby days in the past but never understood the sheer amount of work and planning that went into such an event. The day was a megalith of moving parts – faces, activities, and actions – which all went smoothly thanks to Caroline, our amazing Director of Organizing. In a past lobby day, I spoke with a lawmaker about supporting a bill that would dis-aggregate Asian and Pacific Islander data. It was my first time conveying my story to someone with legislative ability. I felt so powerful in that moment, and even more so when the bill passed. To know what it was like to be behind the scenes of an event that amplified the voices of 600+ attendees was invigorating and inspiring.
While the last few months took an unexpected turn with first a global pandemic and more recently a movement for the sanctity of Black Lives, I have had time to reflect on why I fight for housing equity through my role as a social worker.
When I am not at the Alliance or at school, I work in Harborview’s Emergency Department. In my time there, I have cared for many patients who lacked stable housing. These patients undoubtedly suffered the worst outcomes as they lack a place to heal and to rest. I once spoke with a doctor who treated so many of the same patients over and over again. They said that the most effective treatment would be a stable place to stay, and that they wished they could prescribe housing. Advising my patients who were homeless to keep up with medications felt like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. When I helped patients apply to public housing, I was astonished by how long the lists were. The fact of the matter is that there is just a greater need for more affordable housing than what already exists. That is why the work of the Alliance to push for systemic change through policy is so important. Housing is healthcare and housing is a human right. Everyone deserves shelter and an affordable place where they feel safe.
As a child of the diaspora, the idea of home also means security. For my parents, Vietnam stopped being their home in 1975 when Saigon fell to the Northern regime. My paternal grandfather’s involvement in the Southern military marked his family for political persecution. To avoid imprisonment in the post-war concentration camps, my father escaped on a stolen naval ship and braved the journey to a refugee camp. After 11 months of living in the camp with scant food and little shelter from the weather, he was sponsored to live with a distant aunt in America. My mother arrived in 1982 on a family sponsorship. She came at the age of 14 with two aging parents, no ability to speak English, and little money to her name. She immediately had to navigate a new and confusing society. Both my parents endured hardship and sacrifice in their migration to America in their pursuit of freedom, safety, and most of all, a place to call home.
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well. your neighbours running faster.”
While my parents spent the majority of their lives locked into survival mode, their sacrifices gave me the privilege to look beyond and try to afford the same safety of home for others. As a future social worker, I vow to work toward housing equity as it is not only a right, but a foundation for everything else in life. I want to live in a world where finding a home can happen without so much sacrifice.