Six weeks into my internship with the Coalition on Homelessness, and my experiences have been above and beyond any of my expectations a month ago. Two weeks ago, I was excited to be a part of the 10th Annual Homeless and Formerly Homeless Youth Advocacy Summit (October 5-6, 2015). While doing advocacy work in Minnesota, I learned that I would constantly learn and grow by witnessing folks advocate around issues that impact their lives, and my time at the Youth Advocacy Summit proved to be no exception to this rule!
Having just supported the Coalition’s 2015 Voter Registration drive, one of the highlights of the Summit for me was witnessing young people choosing to participate in advocacy by exercising their right to vote. Over the course of the Summit, I was particularly excited to watch people think in a different, new way about voting. On the first day of the Summit, one participant was pretty vocal in their choice to not register to vote, feeling that their vote wasn’t enough to make change. Through conversations with other Summit participants, discussions about our elected officials in city and county government, and time to reflect, this participant changed their mind and decided to register! They are ready to have their voice heard in the upcoming election, and will do so through their vote as well as their conversations with Councilmembers during and beyond the Youth Advocacy Summit.
Participants at the Youth Advocacy Summit took on no small task! I was impressed by these advocates’ commitment over two very full days (three days for Peer Leaders!) of discussing some of the hard work that needs to be done in this community. Advocates worked on and presented one of four issues throughout the Summit:
1 – Need for an increase in the numbers of available permanent and affordable housing units
2 – Issues specifically impacting People of Color and LGBTQ youth
3 – Need for increased access to low-barrier, supportive resources
4 – Street safety and public space use.
Advocates met with King County Executive Dow Constantine; King County Councilmembers Larry Gossett, Dave Upthegrove, Kathy Lambert, Joe McDermott, and Rod Dembowski; Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, Tim Burgess, and Mike O’Brien; and senior staff from the Seattle Human Services Department to discuss their topics.
On the second day of the Summit, I was able to sit in on the meeting between the advocacy group focusing on issues impacting People of Color and LGBTQ youth and Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Councilmember Sawant was clearly invested in the conversation, and engaged with participants through asking questions and sharing her observations. Our meeting with Councilmember Sawant was incredibly driving; at the end of our meeting she stated that the work being done that day in the office was the groundwork to making change. She asked participants to continue to speak up, and made it clear that she supports their efforts to work towards a community where all are safe and treated equitably. Councilmember Sawant reminded myself and the people that I was with that change may not happen quickly, but that it is made possible through the long efforts of folks like those meeting with her in that moment.
After the Youth Advocacy Summit, I went to my first City Council budget hearing. As a newcomer to the city, I find myself constantly learning from the locals who have experienced firsthand the impact of the City of Seattle’s budget. Several advocates from the Youth Advocacy Summit were present to speak up, as well as representatives from all over the city who care about creating a budget that adequately responds to the state of emergency in this city. Seeing folks testify for a budget that actually responds to the state of emergency, instead of taking the usual stance of “business as usual”, has helped me to understand the impact that this budget will have on the city. More than anything, these testimonies serve as a reminder to me that people need to continue to speak up! The next, and final, public budget hearing will take place TONIGHT, October 20th, at 5:30 PM (sign-in begins at 5:00!), and we need you to show up to speak up for Human Services and housing and homelessness issues. Join us, wear red to declare the state of emergency, and be ready to tell City Council that “we are in a state of emergency; we must have an equal response”.