North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Homeless Advocates Hold Workshop in Capital

by TRANG DO, Herald-Sun Washington Bureau
July 10, 2007
WASHINGTON - Durham resident Alphonso Williams really knows how to captivate a crowd.  But it's not because of his towering 6-foot-4 frame or his booming, resonant voice.  It's because he know how to tell a great story - his own story.
Williams joined Terry Allebaugh, executive director of Durham's Housing for New Hope in the nation's capital Tuesday to moderate a workshop on effective advocacy for the homeless.
"Looking at me right now, 13 years ago, you wouldn't even recognize me," Williams told the 40-plus attendees.  "I was homeless, dead broke."
Now, at 56, Williams tells his life story as a way to spur others to act.
Tuesday's workshop focused on helping other formerly homeless people and local community advocates to do the same.
"Alphonso is special to us, but he's not unique," Allebaugh said.  "Each one of us has a story to tell."
Williams and Allebaugh were part of a 13-member group from Housing for New Hope, an organization that provides transitional and permanent housing, as well as outreach and crisis programs for Durham's homeless.  The group is in Washington for the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Sixty-two-year-old Dawoud Assad attended the workshop as a representative for Charlotte-based Homeless Helping Homeless.
"Everybody's one disaster away from homelessness," Assad said.  "It's better to prevent it than to become it, and I feel like I need to give back, because of the hlep I was able to get."
Assad said he was employed as an electrician until last year, when he was laid off because of job cuts. 
Unable to find work and pay his mortgage, he lost his home.
With the help of a friend, he now has a job in housekeeping and lives in a boarding house.
"I don't fit the classic definition," he said.  "I'm not on the street, I was taken in by others.  But I'm still homeless."
Assad wants to use his story to bring attendtion to the plight of "unlikely" homeless people like himself, who are simply down on their luck and not suffering from substance abuse or criminal pasts.
Now that Assad has reliable housing, he's concentrating on finding a higher paying job.  But he's facing difficulty.
"Nobody wants to hire a 62-year-old, entry-level," he said.
Williams was happy with the workshop's outcome.
"It went great," he said.  "People were able to relate back and forth to each other, spirit to spirit."
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., held a reception for the state's conference attendees and members of North Carolina's Congressional delegations Tuesday evening.  Advocates hope their personal stories will help shape public policy to better meet the needs of the homeless.
"We're not going to rest while there are sill homeless people in Durham," Allebaugh said.

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