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.
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