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Meet Samm: she rocs

Meet Samm McCrary, a founding ROC member. Her story that she shared with us highlights the struggles and strengths of our dynamic ROC members. She has graciously agreed to share her story and we hope that it will inspire others to advocate as a way to give back to those who are still in need of safe, stable, and affordable housing. Samm believes in advocacy and we are proud to have her as a ROC member. Samm, you ROC!

Musings of the Matriarch of Clan McCrary

I glanced over my shoulder as I closed the gate one last time . . . . Five years of memories came flooding back. Goodbye Asian pear tree, so long one hundred year old rose bushes, pergo floors and stained glass windows. My aging Labrador and just two middle aged ladies leaving this home behind. One of them was wondering where they might sleep that night, the other’s eyes filled with excitement, as she anticipated this being their next adventure.

I grabbed her leash, and the small suitcase on wheels that held mostly dog food, her toys, and a few clothes and we made way to a nearby church I had heard didn’t mind people sleeping on their property if you waited until very late at night. We wandered around until midnight. I put my sleeping bag under a shelter, and had just settled in, when someone yelled “That’s my place, get out of there!” We moved to a set of stairs that were partially covered. The wind and rain began in earnest. My dog sought my eyes, and seemed to say, “Can we go home now?”. How to explain that we no longer had a home and no shelter from the storm. 

A couple of hours later, we were rousted by the parishioner who told us all to leave. At that point, I began sobbing, completely bereft, so weary, and out of ideas. I picked up the Street Roots resource book that someone had given me, and dialed JOIN and left a voicemaiI. It would be another three months of nightly searching for where to lay my head before I connected with Brad Taylor of JOIN. This was a minor miracle, but the goddesses were with me that day. Brad was manning the desk the day that I came into JOIN to barter for a shower, toiletries, and dog food. 

Brad moved me more than nine years ago to the place where I still live. If he had just left me out there on my own, I doubt that I would have been successful, but JOIN provided me with another two years of wraparound services. 

Many die on the streets, waiting for the services I received.

I have been able to gather myself and ultimately give back through advocacy. I had gone through a period of wondering why I should be living and not contributing to those in need. I slowly began to advocate for people who were struggling at that stage of homelessness and mental health issues from which I had transcended.

 I joined the Health Services Advisory Council at the clinic where I receive services, and now assist their housing specialist. I am certified as a Peer Support Specialist and did a six-month internship at Central City Concern. I worked on the council that has since become the board called SNAPCAB through Partnership for a Hunger-free Oregon. We are liaisons between our peers, and DHS, and occasionally tell our stories at DHS staff meetings. I have volunteered for a variety of tasks for my housing provider, REACH, and now I am a member of their Resident Advocacy Committee. My newest adventure is with Residents Organizing for Change (ROC). With the leadership of our country making decisions that I cannot support, I feel that it is vital to have a platform for our voices to be heard.

I will say that there is still a stigma attached to those who live with mental illness, and despite the fact that doctors agree that it is an ailment that needs the same consideration as other diseases, folks who experience this illness are still subjected to the inequities of a system that doesn’t offer enough support.

Meet Michelle: SHE Rocs

Meet Michelle Thurston, a founding ROC member. Her story highlights the many ways that our dynamic ROC members’ lives have been changed by affordable housing. She has graciously agreed to share her story and we hope that it will inspire others to advocate. Michelle believes in advocacy and we are proud to have her as a ROC member. Michelle, you ROC!

In 1989 my family was living in the Bay Area when a 6.9 earthquake struck. The aftermath of that earthquake hit my family hard. While we came away uninjured, we lost our house. It was such a scary and chaotic time. Soon after the earthquake, my father was transferred to work in Oregon. For us it was a completely different culture and environment. We ended up living in the tiny town of Cottage Grove.

These transitions were hard, the only thing that remained the same was my passion for music and sports. As I started high school I went to team try-outs, but because I had horrible vision and for some reason hated (with a passion) to wear my glasses, that only left track. By my sophomore year I really started to blossom as an advanced athlete in track and field, as a discus thrower and shot-putter. With all the support of my mother and brother I travelled all over the northwest competing in meets, sometimes 3 or 4 a day. Those regional meets turned national and then international. I competed from one coast to the other and as far away as Barcelona, Spain.

I was offered a number of college scholarships, but I decided to stay local. How could I leave Eugene that is known as “Track Town USA”?  As a freshman in college I discovered a new event . . . Hammer throw. This was a new event offered to women. It was like I was born for this event! During this time I studied, trained long hours, and worked two jobs. There was not a second of my day that was not filled with the pursuit of my passion and goals of becoming an Olympic athlete and getting my degree in mathematics. That work ethic paid off – I had qualified for the Atlanta Olympics in the hammer throw. It was the first year women were allowed to throw. While it was not a medal event yet, it was a huge step for women in track and field. 

It was during this time my world would be turned upside down. I was diagnosed with an illness that would change the course of my life drastically. Between the illness, hospitalizations, treatments and the mental and emotional strain, my carefully orchestrated life was in pieces. I could no longer compete in track and field, attend school or work.

 I got to a point where I wanted to give up, and honestly I almost did. But fortunately for me I’m stubborn and decided I was going to fight. I stopped trying to do it all by myself and I asked for and accepted help. Once I made that choice, things started to look up. I got into see a mental health/ social worker. I called my mom and my brother, I called my friends. Within months my social worker had me signed up for disability, medical benefits and I was on a housing waitlist and got a place in Cottage Grove.

 It was a weird period of adjustment once again. I had gone from my parents’ house to a college dorm to renting a room, to a hospital, to homeless, to couch surfing – then finally, landed in a huge one bedroom apartment I had to learn how to live in.

It took my pride a long time to accept the fact that I was living in a low income senior and disabled housing, receiving Social Security Disability, and SNAP benefits. 

Slowly I started to gain ground on my illness. I felt strong enough to return to college. It took me a very long time to get my graduate degree in applied mathematics but I did it. 

Over the next few years it became obvious I could not return to working a standard job. But I started to help my neighbors fill out paperwork or help direct them to services, or just advocate for them and with the support and guidance from a senior neighbor, Ray Dean (RIP), I started to become active in our local Resident Advisory Board for our housing agency. 

Suddenly that spark I lost a decade before was starting to come back. I found great joy and purpose. I still live in that little (huge to me) apartment over 24 years later. I am still medically battling, but that no longer consumes my life. I spend as much time as possible as an advocate for housing justice, food stability, and medical care access. I am surrounded by incredible people with incredible life stories that accept me as I am. 

I have made lifelong friends and connections that will be with me always. Some of the greatest things I have discovered is knowing that I am never alone and at night when I’m in my safe warm bed I know without a doubt I have made a difference in not only my life but my community.

Meet Tomirene She ROCS!

We like to bring ROC member stories to light as a way to introduce people to the amazing folks who are a part of this network. This month we are bringing you some of TomiRene’s story! Meet TomiRene Hettman, one of ROC’s founding Members. Here’s her story:

My name is TomiRene Hettman, and I was born homeless. When I was born I needed a complete blood transfusion within 24 hours in order to live. Having been adopted at 4 days old, and even though I had a wonderful middle class upbringing, I have been homeless repeatedly in my adulthood. Each time I was homeless I was facing life-threatening health issues and just kept falling through the cracks in multiple systems!

Unfortunately, there are 100’s of 1000’s of other people who have experienced worse than I have. That is why I am a member of ROC. We are the true “experts on homelessness!” Us! Not politicians. Not social workers who leave the office, returning to safe, stable housing that they can afford in the areas they wish to live. And, most definitely, not the people who have never been homeless, but, instead are simply sick of seeing people who are!

To paraphrase the late Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”,: We are/were homeless, hear us roar in numbers too big to ignore!” ROC, as a united front of those with lived experience in homelessness . . .  is already helping to foster change! And just turned 1 year old!

In August I was chosen to be a Fellow with the Movement Building brought together by Community Change. At first I thought I would simply be an attendee. Someone sitting at home on Zoom, learning as much as I could from the people doing the presentations. Next thing I knew, I was being brought in to help give the training on Storytelling As A Leadership Tool!

The final day of the actual convening took place on August 14th, with an amazing Town Hall meeting with Julian Castro, Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, under Former President Obama! The one thing that challenged me was believing in myself and my ability to not let down the people who were helping to elevate me. It was my 1st time advocating at that level. I had only done so within the city of Portland and its neighboring communities.

What I want to say to those who are considering joining ROC is  . . .

“You are not alone! You are valuable just as you are, and your story can help end homelessness for generations to come! We are your family members whom you haven’t met until now. We have been waiting for your arrival, and are filled with joy in welcoming you into the fold! Your story is a treasure chest of gems just waiting to be polished for adornment!

Meet Mandee: She Roc’s!

Meet Mandee Seeley. Mandee joined ROC in 2020 and hasn’t slowed down.  She brings a ton of passion to this work, and we are lucky to have had her join the ranks. We look forward to seeing what else Mandee will do for housing justice in her community. Here is her story:

I have been a housing advocate in Sisters since 2016, the same year my family became houseless upon moving to Oregon. When I lost my job due to COVID in April of 2020, I decided to commit to advocacy full time on a broader level, and a friend mentioned Residents Organizing for Change.

Prior to getting involved with ROC, I had been the only person I knew with lived experience of housing instability that was fighting to end it, and they introduced me to a network of others just like me doing this work, which has fueled my passion and made me want to fight harder for all of us.

I think of ROC as a gateway because other doors have opened since joining and I’m now involved in things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

In my short time with them, I have gained confidence as a constituent and grown a deeper appreciation for policy work, which has taught me that my story and perspective are necessary when talking to legislators who represent my community.

I’ve been able to participate in a national housing justice narrative fellowship with other advocates with lived experience across the country, creating more connections and a unified voice as we work together on a common goal to end houselessness and housing instability.

I was asked to join the Project Turnkey advisory council that is providing funds to Oregon organizations to turn motels into housing for victims of wildfire and those experiencing houselessness.

I’ve also learned how to help others share their story by speaking to future members at our virtual Housing Opportunity Week which replaced Lobby Day in 2021. None of this would have happened without ROC, and I am so thankful to call myself a member.

Check out some of Mandee’s writing:

Housing Opportunity Week 2022

My name is Mandee Seeley and I am a member of Residents Organizing for Change, or ROC. On behalf of other ROC members we’d like to invite you to “ROC Your Heart Out” with us the week of Valentine’s Day (that’s February 14th thru the 18th) to talk to your legislators about the housing policies that matter most to you and your communities. 

Last year we had nine teams talk to 19 Oregon legislatures about ROC priorities, which marked the first time the network was able to put forth the issues we saw as important to our mission, and 7 of the 10 bills we advocated for passed! Nothing creates change like telling the story of how a policy has or will make a change in your life, or the lives of people you serve. And now that we’ve gone virtual, access to elected officials has become more accessible than ever, and they want to hear from us, their constituents!

I am the most active Central Oregon member and it is important to me to have others join me to advocate for better housing outcomes in my community.  As a team of one I was nervous talking to my legislators last year, and since it was also my first time participating in this event,. I struggle with anxiety, and talking to people in positions of power can be intimidating, but I had support, and we will extend that to you to help you get your message across. This is why we want more people to join ROC.

My representative assumed that because affordable home ownership worked for him, that was the way out for everyone, which we all know isn’t the case. My senator hadn’t even read the bill I was talking to him about. Just my example alone is why this work is so important. Without the perspective of folks like us, they are looking at the housing crisis from a narrow lens, but we can help them expand it.

We’re at a monumental time in history when housing has become a top priority, people are starting to agree that it’s a basic human need, and there is funding available to make significant changes. We want to keep that momentum going! 

My name is Mandee Seeley and I am a member of Residents Organizing for Change, or ROC. On behalf of other ROC members we’d like to invite you to “ROC Your Heart Out” with us the week of Valentine’s Day (that’s February 14th thru the 18th) to talk to your legislators about the housing policies that matter most to you and your communities. 

Last year we had nine teams talk to 19 Oregon legislatures about ROC priorities, which marked the first time the network was able to put forth the issues we saw as important to our mission, and 7 of the 10 bills we advocated for passed! Nothing creates change like telling the story of how a policy has or will make a change in your life, or the lives of people you serve. And now that we’ve gone virtual, access to elected officials has become more accessible than ever, and they want to hear from us, their constituents!

I am the most active Central Oregon member and it is important to me to have others join me to advocate for better housing outcomes in my community.  As a team of one I was nervous talking to my legislators last year, and since it was also my first time participating in this event,. I struggle with anxiety, and talking to people in positions of power can be intimidating, but I had support, and we will extend that to you to help you get your message across. This is why we want more people to join ROC.

My representative assumed that because affordable home ownership worked for him, that was the way out for everyone, which we all know isn’t the case. My senator hadn’t even read the bill I was talking to him about. Just my example alone is why this work is so important. Without the perspective of folks like us, they are looking at the housing crisis from a narrow lens, but we can help them expand it.

We’re at a monumental time in history when housing has become a top priority, people are starting to agree that it’s a basic human need, and there is funding available to make significant changes. We want to keep that momentum going! 

We will host a training on the 8th and 9th of February to prepare you for this adventure, so come ready to ask questions and learn with us. You can email Reyna Gillet if you have questions or to sign up, visit our website to learn more about this and other year round advocacy and opportunities to have your voice heard, and we hope you’ll join us to continue this housing justice movement!