Homeless Voices for Justice (HVJ) is a grassroots organization that works for social change with and on behalf of people who struggle with homelessness and poverty. HVJ is organized and led by people who have experienced homelessness. HVJ organizes efforts based on the belief that true change occurs only when those affected by an unjust system are directly involved in addressing the injustices and in which disenfranchised people become empowered and gain leadership skills to organize and advocate for institutional change.
Our Social Change Activities
Working with chapters in Augusta, Brunswick, Lewiston, and Portland, Homeless Voices for Justice holds membership meetings at shelters and soup kitchens to strengthen communications between people experiencing homelessness. Our social change activities range from representation in planning bodies, to policy advocacy, to voter registration and community education, to direct action.
- dee Clarke
- Jim Devine
- Jane Drew
- Cheryl Harkins
- Bill Higgins
- Ben Martineau
- Carolyn Silvius
People experiencing homelessness have always faced the challenge of simultaneously dealing with the harsh realities of surviving homelessness while wishing to direct their energies to combating the injustices of homelessness. But knowing that you have to be at the soup kitchen at a particular time or you won’t eat can get in the way of actively participating in the change process.
Our efforts to register new voters move, inspire, and remind us of the common ties that bind us in our democracy and our humanity so together, rich and poor alike, we can improve our country for all.
Homeless Voices for Justice Advocate Leaders act as organizers, seeking input and speaking on behalf of those who are unable to be actively involved. All Advocate Leaders have experienced homelessness, live on poverty-level incomes, and are skilled in public speaking and public policy analysis.
Homeless Voices for Justice celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015.
Among many accomplishments on legal rights, housing and healthcare, hunger, representation on policy-making bodies, and coalition building, Homeless Voices for Justice has:
- Initiated a campaign to increase the recognition of and response to incidents of harassment due to a person’s lack of housing, helping to ensure that people struggling with homelessness are treated with the same respect and dignity as those who are housed. This resulted in the 129th Maine Legislature passing a resolve directing the Maine Human Rights Commission to create a two-year pilot program to receive, review, and investigate incidents and complaints of harassment due to a person’s homelessness status.
- Organized and advocated for the “Don’t Freeze Out the Homeless” campaign, aimed at restoring HUD funding to Portland and changing HUD’s nationwide application review policy.
- Participated as the only representatives of the homeless community on Portland’s Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, the key decision-making body in assessing the city’s shelter situation and developing policies to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness.
- Advocated for an increased supply of affordable housing and improvements to the city’s shelter system.
- Conducted ongoing You Don’t Need a Home to Vote voter registration campaigns, which have registered over 2,500 homeless and low-income people.
- Organized candidates’ forums and other educational efforts during elections.
- Initiated a campaign to address hate violence targeting homeless people that led the Maine legislature to include homelessness as a protected category under a law that allows a crime victim’s group identity to be considered in sentencing. Signed by the Governor at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen, the law received national attention and resulted in decreased attacks on people experiencing homelessness.
- Represented consumers on Maine’s Homelessness Councils.
In addition to the social changes resulting from this advocacy, Homeless Voices for Justice has a profound effect on its members, including increased self-esteem, community respect, and an understanding of the collective nature of personally-experienced injustices and the power of collective action. The empowerment and sense of dignity produced by “finding our voice” and participating with peers in making change cannot be overstated.
As one advocate said, “It’s helped me to see how huge poverty really is. I’m not alone. I have a greater understanding of oppression and exploitation now.”