I was called to Asheville in 2005, taking a risk on the "Follow Your Dreams" slogan. Five years later, I was homeless. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
No longer burdened by the need to keep a nonexistent roof over my head, I was free to spend my time on what was really important. Since I hadn't been able to get a decent job in Asheville before the recession, when my skills and references were fresh, job-seeking during the worst of it seemed a waste of time. And the Asheville Homeless Network was badly in need of someone with nonprofit experience, which I had.
So I threw myself into volunteer advocacy work. And haven't stopped since.
I left AHN after two years, but by then was involved in the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition and the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee. Then came the People's Transit Campaign, and the City's Transit Committee. City Council, Public Safety Committee, the Citizen's Police Advisory Committee, budget worksessions, affordable housing panels... I'm not officially a member of any of the latter, but whether I sit at the table or in the audience, my work is the same: Fighting to make sure that our low-income residents have a voice in our local government, that their voices and needs are respected, and that they have the information they need to know what's really going at City Hall and how they can change it.
GoFundMe wants a photo, but the work I do isn't very exciting to look at. Going to meetings, reading reports, participating in workgroups, email after email after email. Even when the meetings get lively -- especially when the meetings get lively -- any photo of me is liable to show my head bent over my phone, trying to live-report on what's happening for the people whose jobs and kids and lack of transportation keep them from being there themselves.
Last summer, I asked the homeless and formerly homeless family at BeLoved whether I should continue full steam with my transit work or divert some of those hours to the City's new comprehensive planning process. There are other dedicated people working on the transit campaign, and I was concerned that the comp plan would have no one else to speak up for those without money. They told me -- you know, the poorest of the poor, the people mainstream opinion would tell you are too stupid, too uneducated, too crazy, too addicted, too selfish and screwed up to care about anything except themselves -- they told me to go for the comp planning.
You can see the results of that here: Sabrah's Guide to the Comp Plan. The Asheville Blade discusses my transit work here, and here, and here. (The Fare-Free Zone discussed was reinstated two weeks after I sounded the alarm, and Asheville's transit management contract is now switching to a new model that will hold the bus company more accountable -- though I was only one of many people sounding the alarm on that). My Facebook account has been pretty much nothing but civic engagement for years. In fact, I was thrilled to hear from out-of-town friends that rather than boring them, all my Asheville posts had inspired them to pay more attention to their own local government.
I work closely with nonprofits Just Economics and BeLoved, but I don't work for them, and my work has been unfunded -- until now.
The truth is, my work is all about communication, research, channelling information where it needs to go to do the most good. And there's only so much of that you can do these days without Internet access. And there's a limit to how much you can get done when you spend hours running about town (on a bus!) trying to get online in other people's spaces, at times that work for them and not for you.
So I'm finally breaking down and asking you to please help me, so I can help Asheville better. My work has reached a plateau, and I know I can do so much more -- but I can't do it without more resources.
I'm asking you to help me with $1200, to support one year of my civic engagement and low-income advocacy work.
That's $50 a month to cover Internet costs and other work-related expenses (a Citizen Times subscription; tickets to events like the Poverty Forum, the State of Downtown, Building Bridges; new glasses -- when you can't read the PowerPoints at City meetings, it's time for new glasses).
It also includes $50 a month as a stipend for personal expenses. I'm fortunate enough to have my rent paid by a program for the formerly homeless, and I get food stamps. But I haven't had any other income since 2012, and there's things that food stamps just won't buy.
I've pored over that question for years that the homeless always hear: Why doesn't she just get a job? But the fact is, I have a job. I just don't get paid for it. And the people I'm working for are struggling to get by themselves; they can't be signing my paycheck. But I'm working for them all the same.
So I'm asking you to please help me, help them. Because we are a community, in Asheville or on Earth, and I can't ignore that. Because I'm going to keep doing this with or without your help -- but it will be a whole lot easier with it.
Thank you so much for whatever you can give.
Yours in service,
Note: Your donations should show up as going to BeLoved House. GoFundMe needs a bank account, which I haven't had in years, so BeLoved is acting as a go-between and will channel the money to me.
- James March
- Heather Timney
- Patrick Conant
- Patrick Covington
Organizer and beneficiary
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