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In Loving Memory of “Better Believe” Steve Thomas

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

The displaced populations in most American cities have grown so much that they comprise a neighborhood separate and unique from any geographic based community.  These people who fin themselves unhoused travel the city, but depend on each other for safety, survival and family support.  Steve Thomas was the older uncle figure in the homeless community of DC who was working every day to give a hand up to everyone without housing.  Thomas died on February 23, 2022 after long term health struggles that limited his ability to do what he loved most—helping people. 

Steve had a career that included travelling the world with the military, and travelling the country driving a truck. Bad decisions and fractured relationships led to Steve eventually losing his home. He lived in his Jeep for years struggling with his own demons, but always had a pair of socks or a rain jacket to spare for anyone in need. He developed life long friends on the streets of DC, and saved the lives of countless individuals who never had anyone care for them or look out for their well being.  Rachelle Ellison knew Steve for 25 years (including 17 years on the street) and tried to talk to him every day. She said, “He had a heart of gold, and was always there to uplift us.” 

Steve Thomas was the Public Education Coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless, but the title does not give the full extent of his role as the heart and soul of the Speaker’s Bureau and the glue that kept everyone together as a family.  While on the street, he met some of the speakers from the Faces of Homelessness program and got to know Kelvin, Rachelle, Eric, David and others before eventually becoming a speaker.  Steve would tell you that he was the best speaker in the program despite Donald Whitehead, NCH’s executive director, claims to the contrary.  They had a long running joke of which one was the best speaker at NCH with each trying to outshine the other and each making the other better when the spoke together. 

Thomas stepped into the role as coordinator after the death of Michael Stoops and after David needed a break from that role.  Steve loved to cook and many of the speakers talked about how much they enjoyed his food.  Up until the pandemic, he had regular dinners at the office for the speakers to motivate them, provide updates, but most of all to show everyone they were a family. Steve is survived by his daughter, Stephanie, and he told us all at a staff meeting how proud he was to be a part of her wedding in 2021.  He built a family of speakers at NCH that he protected, counseled, found work for, and became a close friend to every one of them.  Thomas was a veteran of the US Air Force where he rose to the rank of Sergeant, which may have been where he learned to put the needs of others ahead of his own. 

Donald remembered him as bringing so much humor to the staff and said Steve was really like a brother to him. Speaker Karen Ennis remembered that Steve loved joking about her teeth until he fell and cracked his own tooth. He then would tell everyone that Karen must have somehow contributed to his fall to get back at him for the jokes.  Megan Hustings, the Deputy Director of NCH and his supervisor for a time, remembered that he was always so dedicated to seeing that NCH succeeded and was always willing to take on new challenges.  She remembers that he turned mundane activities like monitoring a table at a service fair into a cheerleading session for everyone to yell out the NCH name who visited the table.  Everyone he met would talk about his booming personality and the joy he tried to spread.  Those who first met Steve would think he was a cold disciplinarian, but as Kelvin Lassiter explained, “he was really just a big old teddy bear at heart.” It took a short while to get to know him, but those who spent time without housing were forever his family. 

Thomas’s biggest issue that he struggled with for 20 years was that he could not stand to see people pass away on the streets of DC.  He helped organize a number of sleep outs as part of the Candlelight Memorial Vigil service in Washington on December 21 and did everything in his power to prevent people from dying when they did not have housing.  Penny Nance, another of the NCH speakers, loved his ability to tell stories and the concern he had for all the speakers.  Steve had started a group to try to eliminate homelessness in the District, and loved going out to distribute items to those who lived outside and those who felt safer on the streets than in the shelters.

Kelvin Lassiter, Policy Director at NCH and a long term speaker, remembered this story that Steve told him.  Thomas was overseas in Turkey during his military duty, and eating with some of the local population. They encouraged him to try all the strangest and most repulsive sounding foods.  Steve, never wanting to insult or offend his hosts, was always willing to try whatever they put in front of him, and he made it out of Turkey without having to have his stomach pumped or being poisoned.  

Don Gardner, another speaker who met Thomas in recovery, thought Steve had a great talent for matching speakers to fit the engagement. Gardner said that he always would try to link people back to their families and that very few people knew all the things he was doing behind the scenes to help give the speakers the best opportunities. Ellison talked about how fair he was to every speaker trying to get everyone an equal number of engagements. Steve was a good actor and had done a series of skits called “The Obsoletes” with other speakers to demonstrate the real stories of living on the edge in a modern American city.  Thomas was extremely competitive, and Whitehead described him as an “inspiring personality who was always helping others.” The staff at NCH found him as a joy to be around and all were the subject of his verbal pokes to keep us on task and to help us overcome the depression and sadness associated with working so closely with those struggling to survive in such a prosperous country.  


Services for Steve Thomas will be held on March 7, 2022, at Purity Baptist Church & Urban Center, 1325 Maryland Ave NE, Washington DC 20002. For those unable to attend in-person, the service will be livestreamed via FB at www.facebook.com/Betterbelievesteve.

In lieu of flowers, Steve’s family is requesting donations be made to NCH. We will be announcing plans to keep Steve’s legacy alive and to continue his mission to help those within the District.  

Struggles and Success of homeless advocacy in Spokane, Washington

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

by Rachel Rothenberg, American University student

If the public knew the stories behind the headlines and the negative images they see on the nightly news, would that motivate them to respond?  If voters saw the real histories instead of the myths about those without housing would that change the way society dealt with homelessness in America?  Maurice Smith of Spokane Washington is working to answer that question.  Three years ago, Smith began making documentaries about homelessness in this mid-sized northwestern city that featured a growing homeless population. The documentaries revealed that homelessness was a much larger issue than the city had claimed and the population experiencing homelessness are much different compared to what is portrayed in the media.

Smith has worked alongside those without housing and disadvantaged people of Spokane city for over 15 years. Some of his experience includes operating four different homeless shelters, serving on various organizing teams for Spokane homelessness projects, and co-founding a food rescue organization. Smith’s documentary series “My Road Leads Home” spotlights the housing crisis in Spokane and addresses the way that the city is handling it. He began working on these documentaries to let the Spokane community hear from homeless people and set the tone for discussing homelessness with the practice of Shalom which is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility.

According to Smith, the Spokane community rests on the value of Shalom to create a healthy community in which each of the members are able to fulfill the daily needs and successfully pursue their talents for the good of the entire community.  “You and I look at the community and see things that are not the way they should be,” Smith said and gave examples of people sleeping on the sidewalk or young people ‘couch surfing’. Marchanuna Rodgers, an international development specialist, asks the Spokane community an important question: What would it look like if a community is defined by shalom? She shares a difficult story of her community showing up for her during a hard night. She poses the potential of a genuinely supportive community showing up for each other when the situation presents itself. Sadly, that is not always the case. 

 In The Night of the Unsheltered Homeless and The Hidden Homeless: Families Experiencing Homelessness, Smith specifically demonstrates the way that Spokane downplayed homelessness and was not equipped to shelter more than 52% of the homeless population. Rob Bryceson explains that Spokane’s policy on homelessness is the following: the city provides private funds to organizations that apply to provide resources for homeless people. The main three operating Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, and Union Gospel Mission. Unfortunately, Bryceson said “the need has grown” and the big three agencies need other groups to “come in and add strength” because of a “change in the homeless population.” The change in the homeless population in Spokane to “angrier and younger” has made it more difficult for the city of Spokane to manage sheltering homeless people. 

Another dysfunctional “solution” to homelessness is the practice of sweeps. Law enforcement and government officials of Spokane see sweeps as a quick fix to ending homelessness, although they do not actually “go to the root of the problem,” as civil rights lawyer Andrew Biviano claimed in the video published by Smith. By shifting the issue to be the responsibility of the police, policymakers can easily adopt an “out of sight, out of mind mentality.” Along with sweeps, the Boise court decisions allows law enforcement to “arrest people for conduct crimes such as obstructing the sidewalk” which criminalizes a homeless person’s existence. 

Smith’s work, along with many other advances by the homeless community also catalyzed great progress. The city has a “greater community focus on and discussion about private initiatives to address homelessness,” says Smith. Several projects are starting such as a drop-in day center and resource hub and a homeless village. All the videos about the problem in Spokane can be found at https://myroadleadshome.org/documentary/.  There are still many issues to overcome for example in February 2022, the city installed chain-link fences along the viaduct to prevent tents from going up.  There are still not nearly enough shelter beds, and people are still dying because of their experiences living without housing.  Smith’s documentaries have changed the narrative and spread community awareness about homelessness in Spokane. They have moved leaders to open warming centers and the Mayor has had to admit that there are not enough beds and their needs to be a new strategy.  We hope that these interviews and snapshots into life on the streets of Spokane will lead to meaningful change in addressing the crisis of the unaffordability of rent locally.  

Build Back Better Broken-Heart Valentine Action

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

We are Broken Hearted this Valentine’s Day Over the Deaths of our Neighbors whose lives were cut short by Homelessness. Urge our Elected Leaders to Do More to Create and Build More Affordable Housing.

In 2018, National Healthcare for the Homeless estimated that at least 17,500 people experiencing homelessness died without a home. That’s at least 49 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or friends dying everyday because they were unable to afford safe housing and adequate health care. How many more people have to die before Housing is a Human Right in this country?  

Those who died were artists, teachers, first responders, those laid off because of the pandemic, and business owners. They were followers of nearly every major religion and spent countless hours volunteering to serve others. They lived in the richest country on the planet and yet died because they did not have the basic income needed to pay the bills or to afford housing or quality health care. Each of their lives counted, even though they were cast aside by their country and communities.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), and hundreds of partners across the country have remembered their names and their stories for over 30 years on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held symbolically on the winter solstice. On February 11, 2022, NCH Staff and Advocates who have experienced homelessness will read over 3,000 names of individuals whose lives were cut short due to the effects of unstable housing. 

But we need to do more than remember their names. We can begin by passing the Build Back Better Act, which includes direly needed and historic investments of almost $170 billion in housing accessibility programs. NCH is sending “Broken Heart” Valentine’s Day messages to every member of the US Senate that include the names of constituents who have died without housing. 

We are urging you to send a similar message to your elected leadership in your local, state or national leaders.

Here’s what you can do: 

These are our neighbors and constituents who are not able to be here because they could not afford safe housing and decent health care. Let’s tell our senators – If you pass BBB in their honor, you can undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs that could prevent more of your constituents from succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness.

1. Find your state representatives:

2. Access the list of names we received, by state:

  • Find a list of names in your state by clicking here. 

3. Print these cards and give them to your local or state representatives:

4. Find images for posting: 

Facebook; download image here:  broken heart call to action fb (3).png

Instagram/Twitter, download image here: 13,000 preventable deaths. 535 members of congress. 1 bill..png

5. Post on social media using these sample posts:

  • Does your heart break for the 17,500+ people without homes who die each year? The Senate must pass the critical housing investments in #BuildBackBetter to prevent more unnecessary deaths! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
  • My heart breaks for the more than 17,500 people who die without homes each year. We have to do better! We can start with passing nearly $170 billion in critical housing supports in #BuildBackBetter! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB 
  • Data shows that between 17,500 and 46,500 people die without housing each year. That’ s at least 17,500 people dying due to extreme weather, violence or unattended health conditions. That’s at least 17,500 people dying preventable deaths. #PassBBB #BuildBackBetter #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths https://nhchc.org/homeless-mortality/
  • Dear Senator: You have the power to undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs and communities that could prevent more of your constituents succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness. Pass #BuildBackBetter with housing. Save lives, [your state] needs you. #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB

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