OLYMPIA — Hundreds of people rallied on the steps of the Washington Capitol Monday afternoon, calling for housing justice and support from lawmakers.
There didn’t used to be so many people flocking to Olympia for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day. Gary Akizuki has made the yearly trek from Clark County since 2003, when he was joined by just one or two other people.
“The attention that is now on this is indicative of the number of people who came out today,” he said. “It’s quite reflective of the crisis in our community.”
Akizuki is a longtime Clark County resident and housing advocate, currently serving on the Council for the Homeless board. For the last three years, the Vancouver-based nonprofit has chartered a bus to shuttle dozens of constituents to Olympia to talk with their local legislators about bills related to housing and homelessness. The advocacy day is organized by the Seattle-based Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which sets a legislative agenda each session.
The crowd on the steps wore red, the color of housing advocacy, and cheered as the names of their legislative districts were called. Those from Clark County’s 17th, 18th and 49th districts whooped and hollered.
Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Anacortes, spoke about needing to be unified in order to solve the state’s homelessness problem.
“This issue is on everyone’s lips. It’s discussed every day,” he said.
Ramel urged the advocates who came to Olympia to tell their personal stories when meeting with legislators.
“When you tell your story, they listen. … They do change their minds,” said Caroline Lopez, the new director of organizing for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Before starting her job a few months ago, the Portland resident worked at Council for the Homeless, helping Clark County residents secure housing. With her heart and focus on Southwest Washington, she adds a regional voice to the housing alliance. She recruited a couple of Clark County residents to help lead advocacy day workshops.
They included Vancouver’s Ren Autrey, who spoke about the Resident Action Project. Years ago, when Autrey began advocating on behalf of the homeless, her focus was hyperlocal; she now sees the benefit of broadening her reach and advocating for statewide change.
“Sometimes, Southwest Washington had led the way in some of those laws,” Autrey said. “The change starts with us.”
Harney Heights — More than 100 advocates, service providers, community leaders and unhoused residents of Clark County came together in unity and support at an empathy-building event last month. The event was designed so people could reflect on what it’s like for the local unhoused population, showing a lack of transportation options and bathrooms available to the homeless. The event was organized by Adam Kravitz and Ren Autrey, founders of Outsiders Inn, a local nonprofit whose primary mission is advocacy, collaboration and support for the local unhoused population. The event, called Walk A Mile in Our Shoes, started with speeches and then about 70 people walked 1.5 miles carrying signs of hope and encouragement. When the walkers returned, many of the unhoused participants joined in for raffle prizes and free coffee supplied by Starbucks.
It was a cold, clear blue-sky day in early 2014 as John Herold was standing in a friend’s driveway in Tacoma talking on the phone to Portland resident Kate Hill.
A little more than a year earlier, Herold had been hospitalized after going into what doctors labeled a manic state. He had huge amounts of energy, couldn’t sleep and was having unusual beliefs. He was also hearing voices. He had been on and off of psychiatric medication and considered himself bipolar, just as he’d been diagnosed.
Looking back at the experience now, Herold takes issue with how his thoughts and experiences were handled in 2013. After that year, Herold connected with Hill, who was involved with the Hearing Voices Network in Portland.
The Hearing Voices Network is a guiding organization and framework for thousands of support groups across the world designed for those who hear voices or have visions that others around them don’t see or hear; those experiences can include all five senses.
The groups provide a framework to empower and liberate people who have unusual experiences, and they aim to fight back against stereotypes and discrimination.
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