Our Voices Heard is an organization whose members are homeless and formerly homeless

H. C. Covington (ach1@sprynet.com)
Sun, 28 Dec 1997 23:03:12 -0600


Fwd:  Action for the Homeless
        1021 N. Calvert Street
        Baltimore, Maryland 21202
        (410) 659-0300

Our Voices Heard

In May of 1997, Action for the Homeless helped to facilitate the creation
of a new organization in Baltimore. Our Voices Heard is an organization
whose members are homeless and formerly homeless. Their mission:
"To empower people whose lives are effected by homelessness in order to
influence public policy".


Their Creed:
We the people believe in ourselves.
We believe in our governments City-State and Federal.
We believe we have responsibilities as Citizens.
We believe that our nation should live up to its ideals
We the People must challenge it to do so.
We can do this by having Our Voice Heard.
We are the people of Our Voices Heard

**************

Here are a few of their Voices:
Blessed
Being a member of Our Voices Heard gives me an opportunity to give back
because I was once a homeless person. However, I was very fortunate. I
found my way into a shelter specifically designed to help me with my
addition problems. The shelter also provided me with some employment
training along with counseling that helped me to deal with some of the
issues that led to my homelessness. I feel blessed to have had the
opportunity to participate in the programs provided by Maryland Homeless
Veterans (MHV). However, this is only happened because I am a veteran. In
other words I could only benefit from the services provided by MHV because
I served my country. I believe that services like these should be available
to the entire population of homeless people.
There are many things that contribute to homelessness. Such as the
decisions that an individual makes or the effects of the policies
implemented by our society. I am fully aware that I have to take
responsibility for the consequences of on my decisions. I have decided that
I no longer want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the
solution. That is why I am part of Our Voices Heard. I want to be a part of
the solution and I want my voice to be heard. I feel blessed and I want to
be part of a blessing for others.
The Above is the testimony of a formerly homeless veteran, who is employed
and living on his own.
Rebirth
The feeling of being homeless was devastating. To be with out a permanent
or fixed place of residence...to be without a place for my affections, my
memoirs, for peace or rest was very unsettling because for the first time
in my life, I had the encroaching feeling of hopelessness. For the first
time, I realized that without a residence I was falling into one
dimensional thinking, settling for whatever was available to survive. I had
become animalistic in nature. I had no soul or spirit, I was experiencing a
spiritual death.

I am told that prayer comes in many forms, but whatever the form, it is
designed to link the soul of man to the essence of God. It is through
prayer that my life began to change. I don't know how or when it happened
but one day I found that I could make a difference, not only in my life but
in someone else's. I decided not to be drafted for service, I volunteered
for service in an organization known as Our Voices Heard. I decided to be
loyal in my attendance, generous in my giving, kind in my criticism,
creative in my suggestions, and loving in my attitudes. I decided to give
my interest, my enthusiasm, my devotion and most of all, myself. I
rediscovered that the power of life was its ability to transform itself. I
again was able to take responsibility for my predicament. I had the feeling
of empowerment and was willing to share it with others. Oh, what a joyous
feeling. It was as if I now had a soul or a spirit, I had experienced a
sort of spiritual rebirth.
The above is the testimony of a formerly homeless man who currently
continuing his education.
Dreams
Close your eyes and remember when you were a little child. All the dreams,
the wishes and plans you made for the future. "When I grow up I want to be
a......." How many dreams did you ever fulfill? I've had a lot of hardships
in my life but I never stop believing that one day things would get better.
I never gave up hope, I never gave up belief in myself. I have always
wanted to be able to help other people. I've come to realize that in order
to receive my blessings I must give of myself. I must give with an open
heart and a open mind. It is through this giving of self that I am able to
improve my condition.
As I grow I am coming to realize a lot of things for example: in order to
change the way of the world you must first change yourself. I am working
very hard at changing myself and in-turn changing my condition. I also am
having an impact on my society. It is powerful, today I am making a
difference because I am a member of Our Voices Heard. I am getting a chance
to do what I always wanted to do, a chance to help others while helping
myself. I guess maybe dreams do come true.
The above is the testimony of a formerly homeless mother who is current
working and looking to continue her education.

Empowered
The feeling was electric, it was intoxicating, it was overwhelming. It was
an awareness of a power greater than myself. It was as though I was truly
beginning to feel a connection with others for the first time. It was like
I was feeling alive for the first time, I could feel the power of unity
cursing through my veins. Yes, I was experiencing the feeling of being
empowered.
I was walking the halls of Government with my comrades. I was meeting with
Senators and Congresspeople soliciting their support. In fact, I was living
out a life long dream, I had become a lobbyist. I was here because I had
decided to become a part of the solution instead of remaining a part of the
problem. I had decided to take responsibility for my plight and I was doing
something about it. I was going to let the people in Washington know what
it felt like to be homeless and hopeless. They could not possibly know what
it feels like to sit on a park bench with no place to go, no food to eat,
or no one to comfort you. They could not know what it is like to eat from a
dumpster. They could not know what it feels like to travel the distance
from homelessness-to- hopelessness. They could not possibly know of these
horrors, but I was going to tell them. I was going to let them know what
this pain felt like. My reason for telling them was not to solicit sympathy
but to solicit support for the policies that would help change the plight
of the homeless. I was not only having an impact on my life but the lives
of others like me. Oh! what a powerful feeling.

Yes, it's true I was to feel empowered. The word that I had heard being
tossed around now had meaning. It now had flesh and blood, my flesh and
blood. It was no longer an abstract concept it was real for me and for the
others that shared this experience, this "Day in Washington". It seemed to
grow amongst us as we went up and down the halls of Congress. It moved amid
us almost like a spirit, I could see it in the brightness of our eyes, I
could hear it in the sound of our voices.

There we were soliciting the support of Senator Barbara Mikulski and
Congressman Ben Cardin for the "Hunger Has A Cure Bill". We were in
Washington and our voices were being heard. But more than that was
happening, I was being transformed. I no longer felt hopeless, I was
beginning to feel empowered. I not only could take responsibility for my
life I could begin to have an impact on the lives of those like me. I think
I like this feeling of empowerment, I think I will share this feeling of
empowerment with others.
The above is a testimony of a member of Our Voices Heard after having
attended Day in Washington Sept. 9, 1997. Day in Washington was an event
sponsored by Action for the Homeless and the Maryland Food Committee.

Optimistic
I have had many hardships in life, but none more overwhelming than the
psycho-social stresses that had an impact on my mental health. This
"adjustment disorder" caused me to become completely dysfunctional and
disabled according to government agencies and eventually led me to become
homeless. My dreams, ambitions, and aspirations were shattered. In
addition, it was difficult to have my future planned by others. I wasn't
allowed to play an active role in my rehabilitation treatment program and
because of this I began to feel hopeless. I am presently living in
transitional housing which allows me address my mental health issues. I
also am currently involved in a non-traditional therapy program which
allows me to work with my health care providers in designing my treatment
program. This has truly been effective. It has allowed me to regain my
self-esteem and sense of self worth--and guess what? My voice is being
heard.
I'm now grateful, extremely optimistic and truly blessed to be involved in
the G.L.A.D. program. I also have been readmitted into my nursing program.
Upon receiving my Bachelor's Degree I hope to study to become a physician.
It is good to regain my sense of optimism and to believe that I can fly as
high as I choose. I now know that if I believe it, I can achieve it. I
didn't always feel this way, but I now know I can do all things through
Christ, who strengthens me. It is good to find myself leaning on God's
everlasting mercy and grace.
The above is the testimony of woman currently living in transitional
housing, and planning for her continued education.

******
These are just a few of the stories of the people that our members of our
Organization. Each one of these stories could be the stories of thousands.
There are many who wish to have their voice heard. We are committed to
giving them that opportunity. Editor
Frequently Asked Questions about Our Voices Heard:
Q. How did OVH get started?
A. Action for the Homeless hosted a series of Advocacy Workshops at
shelters in Baltimore City. We spoke with shelter residents about community
organizing, recent policy decisions, and how they could get involved in
making a difference. At the end of this series, a large public meeting was
held at a popular soup kitchen. Everyone who had completed an Advocacy
Workshop was invited to attend. Over the course of one month, two large
meetings were held during which people decided to form a new organization,
elected spokespeople, chose a name and set committees.

Q. What activities/issues have the members of OVH been involved with?
A. OVH has had a very significant impact in the debate surrounding public
housing in Baltimore. Like many other cities, Baltimore has recently
decided to eliminate the federal preference which made public housing more
accessible to people who are homeless and in the greatest need for stable
housing. Members have had a presence at all hearings and public meetings
dealing with this issue. OVH helped to organize a daily protest in front of
Housing Commissioner Daniel Henson's office, have spoken on the radio about
these changes and have been highlighted in many local newspapers.

Q. Why do people join Our Voices Heard? What are the benefits of being a
member?
A. The members of OVH have demonstrated that they can make a difference and
that the voice of the poor has been silent and ignored for too long. OVH
offers a support network for people who are experiencing the difficulties
and hardships that undoubtedly come with being homeless. A committee of
people are currently coordinating a Job Skills Training for the members of
Our Voices Heard. At this day long workshop, people will be able to receive
training on resume writing, interview skills and other job related
information.

Q. How can I get more information on Our Voices Heard and/or homeless
Community Organizing?
A. Call Aimee at 410-659-0300 or email me at
aimeem@actionforthehomeless.org