[Hpn] Ex-homeless person elected Board Chair of National Coalition for the Homeless FWD Homeless FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 23 Apr 2000 11:05:55 -0700 (PDT)


http://enquirer.com/editions/2000/04/18/loc_former_homeless.html
FWD  Cincinnati Enquirer - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

     FORMER HOMELESS ADDICT BECOMES CHAIRMAN OF LOBBY GROUP

     BY Lucy May
     The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just five years ago, Donald Whitehead was spending his nights at the led
him to homelessness.

This month he was elected chairman of the board for the National Coalition
for the Homeless in Washington, D.C. - the first formerly homeless person
and first African-American to hold the job.

Mr. Whitehead, 37, said he is honored by being elected to the volunteer
post but is more pleased by what his selection says about the organization
itself.

"The mission of the National Coalition for the Homeless is to involve
homeless and formerly homeless individuals at all levels," he said. "By
electing me, it shows that the organization is sincere about fulfilling its
mission."

Mr. Whitehead lives in Over-the-Rhine and works as program recruiter with
Goodwill Industries. He's married and has six children.

From 1997 until this past January, he was director for the Greater
Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which coordinates efforts for
homeless people locally.

He helped start the Street Vibes homeless newspaper in Cincinnati, and was
a founding member of the Street Newspaper Association, a national
organization.

He also has helped focus the national group on civil rights issues that
affect homeless people, such as city ordinances that prohibit sleeping on
benches.

It's a long way from the night five years ago when, lying in the Drop-Inn
Center homeless shelter, he decided to turn around his life.

He had grown up a middle-class kid. Graduated from Hughes High School.
Voted the class vice president and "Most Likely to Succeed." He was the
home coming king.

He went to the University of Cincinnati and spent three and a half years in
the Navy.

"I came back to Cincinnati to live the American dream," he said.

But then he became homeless, he said, "because of substance abuse."

As an addict, Mr. Whitehead would take whatever was available. He lived on
the streets three or four months. But for about four years, between the
ages of 28 and 32, he moved from place to place, staying with different
relatives.

That one night, while he lay there crying, things changed.

"I guess at that point I surrendered," he said. "At that point, a lot of
really good things happened to me."

Mr. Whitehead began working to overcome his addiction. He started traveling
with the late Buddy Gray, founder of the Drop-Inn Center, learning about
how homelessness touched people's lives all over the country.

If he had it to do over again, Mr. Whitehead said he would avoid all the
pain of substance abuse and homelessness.

"But it made me a better person," he said.

It also made him decide he wanted to help others.

During his term as chairman of the National Coalition for the Homeless, Mr.
Whitehead must help hire a new executive director. He will appear before
congressional committees and meet with Andrew Cuomo, federal Secretary of
Housing and Urban Development.

He will fight for the reauthorization of the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney
Homelessness Assistance Act, which provides federal money to local programs
to help homeless people. He wants more money to be appropriated for the
growing task.

"He's outspoken and uncompromising in terms of the issues, but he also has
the personality where he can work with all kinds of people as well," said
Barbara Duffield, the national group's director of education programs.

And, as a person who has been homeless, Mr. Whitehead never forgets who the
national group is working to help, Ms. Duffield said.

"If ever that perspective starts to slip away, Donald brings it back to
people's lives on the street," she said. "He has an uncompromising nature
because he knows what it's like."

TRACKING HOMELESSNESS

It's nearly impossible to track how many people are homeless at any one
time because the situation is usually temporary, according to the National
Coalition for the Homeless.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated in 1999 that
as many as 2 million people experience homelessness during one year.

For more information, see the coalition's web page: http://nch.ari.net
[EMAIL: "National Coalition for the Homeless" <nch@ari.net>]

END FORWARD

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