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Clark County homeless advocates meet with legislators to push for bills

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By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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Orig story here

OLYMPIA — Hundreds of people rallied on the steps of the Washington Capitol Monday afternoon, calling for housing justice and support from lawmakers.

There didn’t used to be so many people flocking to Olympia for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day. Gary Akizuki has made the yearly trek from Clark County since 2003, when he was joined by just one or two other people.

“The attention that is now on this is indicative of the number of people who came out today,” he said. “It’s quite reflective of the crisis in our community.”

Akizuki is a longtime Clark County resident and housing advocate, currently serving on the Council for the Homeless board. For the last three years, the Vancouver-based nonprofit has chartered a bus to shuttle dozens of constituents to Olympia to talk with their local legislators about bills related to housing and homelessness. The advocacy day is organized by the Seattle-based Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which sets a legislative agenda each session.

The crowd on the steps wore red, the color of housing advocacy, and cheered as the names of their legislative districts were called. Those from Clark County’s 17th, 18th and 49th districts whooped and hollered.

Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Anacortes, spoke about needing to be unified in order to solve the state’s homelessness problem.

“This issue is on everyone’s lips. It’s discussed every day,” he said.

Ramel urged the advocates who came to Olympia to tell their personal stories when meeting with legislators.

“When you tell your story, they listen. … They do change their minds,” said Caroline Lopez, the new director of organizing for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Before starting her job a few months ago, the Portland resident worked at Council for the Homeless, helping Clark County residents secure housing. With her heart and focus on Southwest Washington, she adds a regional voice to the housing alliance. She recruited a couple of Clark County residents to help lead advocacy day workshops.

They included Vancouver’s Ren Autrey, who spoke about the Resident Action Project. Years ago, when Autrey began advocating on behalf of the homeless, her focus was hyperlocal; she now sees the benefit of broadening her reach and advocating for statewide change.

“Sometimes, Southwest Washington had led the way in some of those laws,” Autrey said. “The change starts with us.”

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