In Washington, DC there is a serious crisis. It is one that has been ongoing for over a decade now. It has pushed many out of their homes and onto the cold streets. It continues to rob the poor of all opportunities for economic advancement. At the same time numerous organizations and government officials refuse to make real efforts to stop it. This crisis is called gentrification.
My name is Justin Rodriguez. I have experienced homelessness since the age of 19 and I’m 27 now. Being a homeless youth is horrible anywhere, but experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC is unlike anywhere else. I’ve watched as Mayors both past and present and the City Council continue to defund non-profits that offer comprehensive care to the homeless. I’ve also watched as these same government officials give special deals to developers who build expensive apartments and condominiums. They even sit by and watch as the poor are manipulated and literally forced out of their homes to make way for condo development. When it comes to homeless youth it becomes even more complex. In Washington, DC there are at least 3,300 homeless youth in the public school system alone. It becomes even harder to calculate those who aren’t in school or are between the ages of 19 and 24. The majority of homeless youth in Washington, DC are from LGBT communities of color, so they must deal with racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism at work, in shelters, and on the streets. Because of this, many of the youth become homeless because they run away from violence or conflicts at home. To make matters worse, many LGBT youth are also finding that poverty and higher costs of living are making it even more difficult for them to find affordable housing.
Due to these and many other issues, I have started an initiative called Nothing For Us Without Us (NFUWU). As the name implies, it’s meant to provide the means by which homeless youth can empower themselves. The idea of NFUWU is to create the spaces and opportunities for homeless youth to organize to end youth homelessness and eventually homelessness as a whole. The idea is that those who are most affected by an issue should be the ones leading the way, while those who are not the most affected should support them.
The plan is to find a “core group” of homeless youth who are LGBT folk and women of color. They will then organize around certain issues involving youth homelessness. The supporters, including myself, would offer any services that will allow them to organize. These could be trainings, resources, outreach, and other tools. NFUWU is only a temporary idea until the core group of youth creates their own organization. Right now we are still in the outreach phase and are trying to find that core group of youth. We are also planning on finding a permanent space where youth can come during different times of the day to rest and talk.
In addition we are currently working against harmful laws that had that were secretly passed by the Washington, DC Council with full support from Washington, DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray. These laws punish people for being poor, homeless, and disabled by forcing the homeless to pay for services, forcing them to have to take unstable housing situations or be pushed into the streets, and pushing disabled people out of their permanent supportive housing. Right now we are working hard to spread the word about these laws and demand that Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the Washington, DC Council give answers as to why they believe these laws are acceptable.
The struggle to end homelessness and gentrification is a difficult one. But there is hope. For too long in Washington DC, white middle class people have spoken and acted on behalf of the poor people of color of the city. This has to stop and it needs to stop now. People are smart enough to know what they need. All they ask is that people with privilege stand beside them in their journey for justice and not in front of them blocking the way.