If you drove by OCP in the last month you may have noticed a porta-potty tucked between two trees on our property at the corner of Johnson and Main. For the last year some of our community members have been showing up to meetings with some activists who meet on Court Square every Tuesday evening, and the issue they kept bringing up was the need for a place to use the bathroom at night when the city is asleep. They worked together to bring the issue before the elected officials who (they hoped) had the power to deliver what they needed. Because our community members stepped up to advocate for themselves, and because they found supporters who had access and resources, Mayor Deanna Reed is working to secure funding to cover the expense of keeping the porta-potty on OCP property.
If you were watching the news back in April you may have seen me at City Council talking about why OCP, along with four other homeless service agencies, opposed a traffic safety ordinance that would have suppressed panhandling, a practice that many of our community members rely on to meet needs that are not met due to gaps in community services. I would not have stood up at City Council if our community members hadn’t expressed their needs on this issue, and several of them showed up to speak for themselves. While the encounter was uncomfortable, it opened the door to deeper conversations about the lack of affordable housing in our city.
OCP has never been into “politics” much, but we are coming to the realization that restricting our work to what happens inside our community center fails to address the ways our social and political structures impact the day-to-day lives of our community members. At its most basic level, “politics” is the work of being in community together. Because we are relational beings there is no aspect of our life that isn’t political in some way. By stepping out into the work of advocacy we are tending to the bonds of relationship that shape the world around us. When these bonds are broken, or when they are structured in such a way that they do violence the most vulnerable, it is our duty not only to reduce harm, but to do the positive work of healing and change.
Our staff and board will continue to advocate for the safety and well-being of our community members by evaluating and improving our “in-house” programs and by participating in city-wide conversations about the underlying structural problems that push people into homelessness in the first place. Our board is forming a committee that will be taking a deep dive into the multi-faceted problems around affordable housing while discerning what part OCP can play in potential solutions. We hope our participation in these larger conversations will give our community members further opportunities to step up, find their voice, and advocate for themselves. If this work of advocacy ultimately empowers people and helps them see their own dignity and worth, we will have been true to our core mission and vision.