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Posts Tagged ‘FACES of Homelessness’

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.  

Citizen Engagement: Educating City Council About Solutions to Homelessness

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Speakers' Bureau

On June 24, Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau held a first-of-its-kind speaking engagement by Bureau members who shared their perspectives and experiences of homelessness with members of the City Council, area service providers, and other invited guests (including Michael Stoops and Brian Parks of the National Coalition for the Homeless).

Earlier this year, many members of the Bureau were involved in organizing efforts to stop the city from forcibly removing a community from an encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway in downtown Baltimore. While advocates were not able to stop the City from closing down the encampment, they successfully drew attention to the injustice of closing down an encampment without providing any place for campers to go. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke called a hearing to revisit commitments five years in to the city’s “Journey Home” 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Comments made at the hearing indicated misconceptions about the causes and experience of homelessness.  A University of Maryland Social Work Intern who was involved in the organizing efforts around the encampment began reaching out to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke about organizing discussion with members of the Speakers’ Bureau.

The Baltimore Speakers' Bureau at a recent event.

The Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau at a recent event.

Many emails and several months later, the Speakers’ Bureau finally set a date to meet with City Council in late June and dove into preparing for this very important speaking engagement.  The Bureau aimed to keep the discussion focused on solutions and opportunities for collaboration and hoped that City Council members would walk away with an understanding that while there are a myriad of individual circumstances that contribute to a person losing their home, underlying causes of homelessness all relate to poverty, lack of affordable housing and insufficient health care.

Members outlined goals for the meeting through an agenda that included an introduction on the common misconceptions and stereotypes held about people experiencing homelessness, personal stories from Speakers Bob Jankowiack, Bonnie Lane, and Damien Haussling, as well as a roundtable discussion on pressing issues facing the homeless community. Faces of Homelessness Speaker Tony Simmons who moderated the presentation challenged the audience to think about how themes emerging from Speakers’ stories can point us toward solutions.

The Baltimore Bureau was thrilled by the level of engagement of Council Members during the discussion. Speakers’ Bureau members and advocates from the homeless community were also present to weigh in on the roundtable discussion which focused on changing perspectives of homelessness and an upcoming shelter transition facing the community.

What made this event so important was that for the first time, the real experts on homelessness—those with lived experience—led elected officials and leaders of the service provider community in a discussion on the state of homelessness in Baltimore.  Speakers demonstrated the importance of partnering with individuals that have experienced homelessness in the struggle to end it.

The event captured the essence of a favorite poem of mine by Julia Dinsmore, a poet and activist for social justice from Minneapolis (my hometown):

Take another look, don’t go away. For I am not the problem, but the solution. And… my name is not ‘Those People.’

By Vanessa Borotz
NCH AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer

Read more about what the Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau is up to: http://citypaper.com/arts/stage/i-am-i-said-1.1517758

Our 100th Post!!!

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Speakers' Bureau, Uncategorized

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It’s quite fitting that we’ve reached the big 1-0-0 during the beginning of a new year!

In four years of blogging about current issues homeless communities face, we have covered stories from the everyday struggle of living without a stable home to celebrating the lives of our friends. While we are proud to have this space where our members, speakers, AmeriCorps VISTAs, interns, staff, and other dedicated advocates can contribute to the conversation regarding our neighbors and friends, we recognize that this conversation has been a long one that needs to end with more affordable housing, accessible healthcare, and living wage jobs.100th Blog Entry-A

As we continue to advocate for these rights, we dedicate this entry to the Top 10 Bring America Home Blog post which represents a diversity of perspectives from our bloggers. We invite you to take a look, be part of the conservation, and join us in our work.

Thanks for reading!

10. Living my Uncle’s Story
Hearing my uncle turn back the pages of his life, recounting his struggles and tragedies, my mind was reeling with empathy and understanding. I have lived my story for 21 years. But for the past two days, I lived his.

9. Is Prison Adequate Housing?
What some don’t realize is that these parole restrictions, combined with the difficulty in finding an employer willing to hire an ex-offender, make it very difficult for people who have served their time to find housing and be productive members of the community.

8. What would Mitch Snyder Do and Say Today?
I just hope that there is a little bit of Mitch Snyder in all of us which keeps our eyes on the prize of stopping this injustice of homelessness in our midst.

7. Voluntary Hunger in Protest of Involuntary Hunger
It is important that we remember what hangs in the balance. In the past, the anti-hunger and poverty movement has responded in a multitude of ways. One of those is known as a hunger fast (or strike) to draw public awareness to the issues the poor face and create policy change.

6. Tourism vs. Homelessness
Rather than providing day and night shelter services during the summer months, tourist cites do their best to move out homeless out of visible downtown locations. Homeless people are seen as bad for both tourism and economic development.

5. Shefights.net: A Sequel to Bum Fights

4. Police Charged with Murdering California Homeless Man
Thomas died because six officers of the Fullerton Police Department didn’t know how to react or respond to a mentally ill person in distress and crisis. When faced with a situation that caused confusion, law enforcement at the scene chose brutal force to subdue Mr. Thomas.

3. State ID Legislation Threatens to Disenfranchise Homeless Voters
This trend is only becoming more and more widespread: according to The Brennan Center for Justice, ‘at least 37 states are considering or have considered voter ID and/or proof of citizenship’ bills in this legislative session alone.

2. Membership Matters
There are very real and important reasons why homelessness in America grew to such crisis levels during our lifetime and why it continues to exist today. There are also a number of basic ways that each of us can help locally to prevent, reduce and end homelessness nationwide.

1. Homelessness: An Issue of Convenience Impacting Others
A special thanks must once again be given to our four wonderful speakers, without whom, we would not be able to effectively carry out NCH’s mission

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