Empowering homeless people and those who were formerly homeless by sharing their individual stories encompasses the majority of the work I do through Invisible People. This type of work is critical primarily because people who are currently experiencing or have experienced homelessness are grossly underrepresented at every level, from social services to political policy.
So to say I was excited when the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation asked me to meet with the Corporation of Supportive Housing Community Advocates and help amplify their story would be an understatement. This was an extraordinary opportunity to provide representation to those who typically don't have a voice.
The Supportive Housing Community Advocates program is designed to support formerly homeless residents of permanent supportive housing in building the skills to effectively advocate for themselves and their communities. The year-long curriculum 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.
From the initial meetings it seemed like an awesome project, but little did I know how truly incredible the CSH's Community Advocates program is. I don't think anyone knew what to expect from our first in-person meeting, as oftentimes there can be some stress from allowing a story to happen organically. That was not the case here. I walked into a collaboration between a few formerly homeless people and a facilitator developing a program to help case managers. Immediately everything flowed as if it was all meant to be.
I had never heard of such a thing as formerly homeless people helping train case managers, but it makes so much sense. Programs like this should be much more common. We produced a few short Instagram videos that you can watch here.
The next day I met with a different group of advocates, and again this group of formerly homeless people embraced my presence with kindness. In a few days I would be joining most of these new friends during a trip to Sacramento, so we took a little time to get to know each other. Everyone had such compelling stories. One woman shared about living with schizophrenia and surviving homelessness, and it was so powerful that I used my phone and uploaded it to YouTube immediately:
The following Monday I met a small group of CSH's Community Activists at Los Angeles International Airport at 5 a.m. to fly to Sacramento. I bring this up to provide a glimpse "behind the scenes": Some of the very best moments of this journey involved witnessing how this project gave formerly homeless people a purpose. This small group of individuals, now in supportive housing, were overjoyed by simply being on a shared ride driving through downtown Sacramento. I'm sure speaking to state legislators was an experience they'll never forget, but the whole CSH Community Advocate program provides them all with something to look forward to and be excited about.
Having a purpose in life can never be overstated. People need to have a reason to get up in the morning. When someone goes from the streets to housing, it's often a very scary experience. Obviously, the advocacy aspect of a "lived-experience" peer support program is invaluable, but equally important is the worth and boost in self-esteem such programs give to the people involved.
Below is an embedded playlist of all three Speak Up Advocates who traveled to Sacramento. Follow the conversation and activities of our advocates via the hashtag #CSHSpeakUp on social media.