Advocates for Homeless Rights and Housing Justice
DeBorah Gilbert White, PhD
Founder/Coordinator - HerStory Ensemble LLC
There is a housing crisis. It is not news that women, low-income, and people identified as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are disproportionately impacted by the lack of low-income housing stock across the nation and in Delaware. We cannot prevent homelessness if we cannot keep individuals and families housed, don’t have housing that is accessible for people identified as low-income or poor, don’t accept various sources of income to pay rent, or provide much-needed representation for the most vulnerable when facing evictions.
From its very inception, the community-based group known as HerStory Ensemble has been in the forefront of addressing homelessness and its emerging issues in Delaware with an approach that pushes beyond charity to advocacy that lifts social justice and social change. Comprised of women who are experiencing homelessness, formerly homeless, or at risk of homelessness, the group’s focus is the protection and empowerment of people who hold stigmatized identities in society based on their housing status, and to prevent homelessness. HerStory Ensemble, formed in 2015, was birthed out of the founder’s experience of shelter homelessness in Wilmington, DE. In 2011, Dr. DeBorah Gilbert White was evicted from her apartment owing the landlord less than one month’s rent. With limited resources, she could not check any of the boxes for Delaware social services that would have allowed them to assist her with her rent. It never crossed her mind to fight the eviction. At that time, she was under-employed and had been looking for full-time employment to no avail. She was struggling each day to keep a roof over her head and to pay her bills. Like many individuals and families today, she did not have enough income to live, or the support to remain housed. The eviction would serve as her pathway to homelessness and her introduction to homeless and housing advocacy work.
The women of HerStory Ensemble come from all walks of life. They are grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunties. They are representative of survivors of domestic violence, landlord retaliation, and the social and economic challenges connected to gender and race. As advocates framing housing as a human right, HerStory Ensemble’s work is centered on homeless and housing policy and legislation. It was the first community-based organization comprised of people with lived experience to do so in Delaware by bringing focus to developing a homeless bill of rights for the State. Our strength has been in the ability to form collaborations with others working with the same issues across Delaware and nationally.
Our current policy and legislative work are supportive of the Right To Counsel (SB101) calling for low-income people facing eviction to have legal representation, Source of Income (SB 90) calling for the protection against housing discrimination based on the type of income to pay rent, and the Healthy Delaware Families Act (SB1) providing paid family and medical leave, with a safety leave component for people experiencing domestic violence. A “Bill of Rights for Persons Experiencing Homelessness” is being drafted for introduction this legislative session. The bill will protect people identified as homeless or unhoused from discrimination based on housing status when seeking housing, employment, and services.
Sarah Rhine, Policy Director with Housing Alliance Delaware (HAD) states “Delaware is experiencing a housing crisis where those with the lowest incomes are unable to access housing.” HAD is shaping an advocacy effort that provides an opportunity for communities, groups, and organizations to collaborate, learn, and stand as advocates on behalf of some of Delaware’s most vulnerable citizens. The 2021 Delaware Day for Housing is May 26 (9:30 am - 12:00 pm), and HerStory Ensemble will be participating. We invite you to join us. To learn more contact Sarah Rhine, Housing Alliance Delaware at firstname.lastname@example.org or register at Delaware Day for Housing (constantcontact.com). We welcome you to connect with us by visiting the HerStory Ensemble website at www.herstoryensemble.com, join our email list to receive monthly information regarding our advocacy work, like us on Facebook at HerStory Ensemble LLC, and follow us on Twitter at @herstorytotell.