Why I Advocate

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Elimika James, Housing Advocate

 

My name is Elimika James, and this year was my very first time at Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day! As a working single-mother, it can be difficult to find the time to be an advocate while balancing a job, being a parent, and taking care of my own needs, and I appreciated the opportunity to participate.

I recognize that I have a lot of friends and family members who are struggling to keep their homes and some people need to be given a voice. It energizes me to be able to speak up on behalf of people who don’t have the opportunity.

I heard about Advocacy Day through the Tenant’s Union. This fall I was introduced to the world of housing advocacy when I had helped the organizing effort to prevent many households in my community from being evicted because they used a Section 8 voucher to pay their rent. Our organizing pushed the City of Renton to pass a temporary injunction protection for tenants who use Section 8; but it is set to expire this summer, and I don’t want to see anyone else go through this.

At Advocacy Day, I saw that this is just one of many important issues in a larger problem of access to affordable housing. For instance, my rent has increased over $400 this year without warning. More needs to be done to keep rents affordable—landlords should be able to reasonably raise the rent, but I think that there needs to be more limitations on that power, and more resources to keep people from becoming homeless.

The opportunity to meet with my lawmakers really struck me. I remember going to Olympia as a kid, but that was just to learn and spectate. At Advocacy Day we actually sat down with public officials to have a genuine conversation with them.

I spoke with Representatives Hudgins and Bergquist from my district—there were about 5 or 6 of us, so it was really personal. When we talked about banning source of income discrimination, they said they verbally supported it, but there were many challenges to get it through the legislature that made their role tricky. This was a little discouraging because they have the final decision.

But I guess that is why this kind of advocacy is so important. We, as advocates, were able to talk to them about how Section 8 is stigmatized and affects our lives. Seeing people that care enough to come all the way out to Olympia to talk about what it is important to them might motivate lawmakers to change their minds.

Overall, I think the day made me feel like I could make a difference. Standing with people from across the state during the Rally for Homes reminded me of the scene in the movie "Lean on Me" - together we were powerful. I plan to be back next year to learn more and get more information on important issues and how to advocate.

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