I’m a Real Change vendor going on four years and president of the Vendor Advisory Board. I’ve been attending an event for three years called the “Conference on Ending Homelessness,” this year in Tacoma.
This event helps me build up the strength and knowledge of what is going on with nonprofits and other organizations in their work fighting to end homelessness. This year I was a presenter and even an actor at the event.
The annual Conference on Ending Homelessness has been running for 27 years now. In the 1990s, the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless ran the conference. The Coalition did a lot of advocacy in Olympia and different parts of Washington.
But in 2011 the Coalition merged with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. Then in 2012 the Housing Alliance took on the challenge of the Conference on Ending Homelessness.
The conference is held once a year alternating on the east or west side of the state. There are different people who come to the conference: caseworkers, social service providers, nonprofit staffers, folks from the private sector and people who have been or are homeless.
I talked to Rachael Myers, the executive director of the Housing Alliance, about what running the conference is like. She said it was a lot of work.
This year the conference had more than 800 people who attended — a record. It had more than 50 sessions from which to choose.
At each conference I learned more about the things I want to know about.
This year I was part of a session titled “Act It Out: Theater for Change.” I had to re-enact the time when I first became homeless about six years ago. I had to talk about my story many times, but I never thought I could act it out.
I had practiced a few times, and I was fine. But then it was time for me to perform. I was OK at first, and then I wasn’t for a moment. Because part of me actually felt like it was happening to me again.
For that moment, yes, I was sad and tearing up just a little, but then I wiped my tear, and I went back to finish the show.
As they say in theater, “The show must go on.” I was OK for the rest of the session.
For the rest of the day, I was in and out of it because I never thought I could be sad about my experience by acting it out even though I am not outside anymore.
I am grateful that I am in housing. I got into my apartment four hours before Thanksgiving.
There is one session that I loved titled “Building Power Through Organizing In Your Community.”
The Housing Alliance is building a network of people through the Resident Action Project. It is a group of low-income housing residents and people who work at low-income housing advocating for housing. They are also working on policy changes. I am on the statewide steering committee for this group.
This helps people build skills to make a stronger community, not just in your apartment complex but all around you. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of predicaments that lead people to become homeless. The project allows people to help make change just by telling their stories.
The past few days I’ve been thinking about what it means to be at this conference and presenting. There are no words to explain how I feel in acting and participating in this conference. I love going to this conference. It helps me build skills and acquire knowledge of what is going on in communities and across the state. And also to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
In 2015 Lisa Sawyer was named Vendor of the Year.
Read the full May 17 issue.
Rapidly in, rapidly out: Some struggle to manage their Rapid Rehousing rent
Paul Allen donates $30M for housing
Homeless adults and youth are connected by common experiences