Michael Coleman, a founding member of the People For Fairness Coalition. Photo by Kaela Roeder

The People For Fairness Coalition, a local outreach, advocacy and peer-mentoring organization for people experiencing homelessness, celebrated its 14th anniversary at Franklin Park April 30. 

Since its founding in 2008, the coalition has testified in front of the city council, hosted annual vigils honoring people who have died without a home and led a public restroom initiative to widen access for people experiencing homelessness. The People For Fairness Coalition has also been a leader in advocating for homeless people to be designated as a protected class against discrimination. 

The coalition was joined by several other organizations including Serve Your City. The local musical group Nu Da Mention Band also gave a performance.  

Nu Da Mention Band performs in Franklin Park. Photo by Kaela Roeder

Reginald Black, the current director of the coalition, a constituent representative with the Interagency Council on Homelessness and a longtime Street Sense Media artist/vendor told the crowd if the city is committed to racial equity, then the District must eliminate housing instability and homelessness for all Black citizens. Over 80% of people experiencing homelessness are Black, according to this year’s Point in Time Count, which is an annual count of sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. 

The District is one of the most gentrified cities in the nation, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Previously, the District ranked first, but in 2020, it was ranked thirteenth.  

“This is Chocolate City, you’re not going to run us out. We built this city. We are the ones who have the historic pains and strife. We need to benefit from the advancement and prosperity of this city. This is what we fight for. This is what I continue to fight for,” Black told the crowd. “I’m a native, I spent 10 years homeless myself. And today I’m housed because of that hard work and being a part of an organization like this.”

Robert Warren, the former director and current treasurer for the coalition and a Street Sense Media artist/vendor, said he wishes there was more progress for people experiencing homelessness after all these years. 

“I want change, like, yesterday,” he said in an interview with Street Sense Media. 

Warren said the sheer amount of deaths in the community has been disheartening. In 2021, at least 124 people died without a home, according to a story by DCist/WAMU. In 2020, at least 180 people experiencing homelessness died, which was a 54% increase from 2019, the Washington Post reported. COVID has also disproportionately affected Black District residents, according to the D.C. Policy Center. Seven Street Sense Media vendors have died since December, as well. 

People experiencing homelessness are also at a greater risk of illness and are likely to die 12 years before the general population, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. People experiencing homelessness are also more likely to contract COVID-19, according to recent studies.  

But even still, Warren is committed to the organization advocating for people experiencing homelessness. 

“We just have to keep fighting,” he said. 

Michael Coleman, a founding member of the People For Fairness Coalition and constituent representative for the Interagency Council on Homelessness, said that initially, the coalition was formed out of necessity. For a long time, its founding members felt as though people experiencing homelessness were ignored by the city. Not much has changed, though, he said. 

“Fourteen years later, we are still ignored. It’s just on a lesser scale,” Coleman said in an interview. 

Anthony Carney, a member of the coalition who helps out with outreach and a Street Sense Media artist/vendor, said he’s proud to be a part of the People For Fairness Coalition. 

“We’re making a change for the better,” Carney said in an interview. 

Anthony Carney, a member of the People For Fairness Coalition. Photo by Kaela Roeder