Ten years of advocacy and still a long way till fairness

USCapitol / flickr.com

The People For Fairness Coalition recently celebrated and acknowledged 10 years of standing up for ourselves and advocating for poor and homeless people to have housing as a universal right in Washington, D.C. As I think back to when PFFC was founded in May of 2008, I remember finding myself homeless for the second time in my life. The first time was in 1993, when Washington, D.C. had become the murder capital of the nation.  

I don’t like to think even about the lives lost during those years: men and women of color who I knew and began to write about. Those who I call the children of the marchers, the last generation to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Those who really knew what racism and discrimination were and who saw the public policies that meant to keep poor people poor and dependent on government handouts that are never enough.   

I was never able to finish my book project, “Children of the Marchers,” on my way to becoming a full-time advocate with PFFC and a part-time poet, vendor and contributor with this media center, whose mission is to raise voices and economic independence for homeless and formerly homeless individuals.   

I found out about Street Sense Media shortly after entering the men’s shelter, 801 East, on the historic grounds of St. Elizabeth on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. I will never forget the first time I walked on the grounds, to enter that homeless shelter.  It had been raining all day, as it does in early May. I had been couch surfing with relatives for most of the winter months when a cousin I was staying with told me it was time for me to go.  On that day, I made my way to the shelter a little apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. It had been 12 years since I had been in a homeless shelter.  

I looked up at the May sky as the clouds began to roll away, revealing a full moon, and the faces of men I knew to be homeless in 1993. And still more faces of men I would see on the streets of Ancostica. I thought to myself, “The Lord has me there for a reason.”   

It was a time of hope and change and believing a man of color could become our first Black President. I just felt like I had to fight and write about my coming up in Washington, D.C., and about other Black men like me.  

With that in mind I heard about Street Sense Media and another place called Miriam’s Kitchen — both had writing workshops. As the Lord would have it, I arrived on the wrong day for writing but the right day for People For Fairness Coalition. This group of homeless men, like myself, had started an advocacy group a month earlier.  

And I like to think that through the Street Sense Media vendors who work with PFFC, with our articles, films, forums, and mentor projects, we have had an impact on the lives of homeless individuals in Washington, D.C., and ourselves, for the better. But we still have a long way to go when it comes to people’s thinking around housing those in need of universal housing.  

Our anti-discrimination bill, named in honor of the late Michael A. Stoops,  would make homeless people part of a protected class recognized by the D.C. Human Rights Act.  PFFC remembers the homeless individuals who pass away every year with an annual vigil on the longest night of the year. And more importantly, our peer-to-peer mentoring for people experiencing homelessness has led others to become some of our best advocates.   

Anyone who is interested in standing for a more fair and inclusive District of Columbia may join us. The People For Fairness Coalition meets every Tuesday morning at Miriam’s Kitchen, 2401 Virginia Ave NW, at 8:30 a.m.  

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