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Six in Six Week 1: NC Housing Coalition

I’m not grateful.

I’m more than grateful. I’m whatever grateful is, times a hundred. I’m humbled, enlightened and appreciative.

In April, a couple of interns and I sauntered off to the grand opening of an affordable housing development with a vague idea about this new advocacy tool we were calling the Postcard Project. Our plan was to take photos of a few residents, have them write a short note about their home on the back of a postcard and then we’d send those postcards to the state legislators from their county. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s anything but.

The logistics can be a nightmare. Like in July when it seemed like the only way we could get a good shot of this deeply weathered, somewhat flirtatious, gentleman was to sit barelegged on the freshly blacktopped driveway as the heat index hit 102. In Boone, the most centrally located spot in the development was the playground that didn’t have an electrical outlet. We plugged the printer into a generator in the back of the property manager’s truck so we could print off photos for the families that were kind enough to share their stories with us.  Anyone who’s ever planned even the smallest event knows you have to be prepared for anything.  What we weren’t expecting though was how emotionally exhausted we are after each trip. We can meet upwards of 30 people in a single day. Thirty people that all have individual stories about very hard times in their lives who try desperately to put into words the depth of their feelings about what it means to finally have a home.

This experience has opened my eyes in a way that feels like I can never shut them again. We’ve traveled to 17 developments, taken 164 photos of people living and working in affordable housing and sent 1,744 (!) postcards to legislators representing 38 counties! But that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of our neighbors and friends still need a permanent, safe place to sleep tonight. And it needs to be a place they can afford. To make this happen we need all 170 legislators to hear their stories.

On our first trip I met an Army veteran who had been living in a homeless shelter before a social worker told him about this development. Our second trip was to a senior development. When we asked everyone to write a note on their postcard, a very sweet, shy man with a driving cap asked for help writing his message. After jotting down his note about how much he loved his safe and affordable home, he took the card back and signed his name with a big, black X. It hit me like a ton of bricks, he didn’t know how to read or write. In the western part of the state we met three round-faced, red-headed kids and their mom. The whole family had to move into a homeless shelter after the dad just walked away one day.  Don’t get me wrong, not every person we meet comes from unfortunate circumstances. One of my favorite residents is a woman who is 96 years young and keeps all the residents in stitches with her dirty jokes. She was never married, didn’t have any children and had outlived her retirement money so moved into these beautiful apartments that handicapped accessible.

So, yes, this year I’m more than grateful. I’m humbled by the 164 courageous people I’ve met over the last 8 months. I appreciate their willingness to share their stories. They have given me a whole new perspective on what it means to be a North Carolinian. If I could afford to make a holiday contribution to every organization that has helped or continues to help my new 164 friends sleep a little easier tonight in their safe, affordable home, I would. Instead, I will make a donation to the Housing Coalition. Not just because it’s where I work but because I’ve seen how the work we do really does change lives.

Please join me in making a gift to the Coalition during this week of thanks.

Warm regards,

Anne Ehlers

Development & Communications Coordinator
North Carolina Housing Coalition

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