In 2016, a report called The Community Listening Project was released after a years-long effort of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers to gather input from low-income DC residents about issues they’ve had getting services to combat poverty, poor housing, and other struggles. The Legal Clinic has long been active in the DC Consortium, and when the idea of a Community Listening Project arose, Legal Clinic Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator Kristi Matthews began to work toward ensuring that community voice would be truly present throughout the process. Kristi invited Nkechi Feaster, who had been doing advocacy work with us, to be part of this effort and formed part of a team that placed emphasis on having community members at the helm of survey development and collection, in addition to responding to questions. Tineshea Woodson, another community member involved with the Legal Clinic, played an important role in gathering responses to the survey, and the team followed the process through over the course of three to four years. Ultimately, approximately 600 low-income community members participated in the project’s focus groups or responded to its survey.
When the Community Listening Report was finally published in 2016, Nkechi, Tineshea, and Kristi continued to
meet, now with an eye toward how to engage the community in the results of the report and next steps. It became clear that an ongoing space for the community to meet, dialogue and engage with one another and be proactive agents of change was necessary, so efforts turned to convening such a gathering. In November 2016, a small group met in Anacostia to start this journey. After significant outreach, organizing, and connecting with people in housing programs and shelters, People Power Action met for the first time as a group in March 2017.
Now over 50 members strong, People Power Action has studied power and gentrification and collectively chosen to focus on land use as a root cause of housing instability and homelessness. Additionally, People Power Action has supported ongoing community struggles while also engaging in legislative and policy processes. Through interactive trainings, members of People Power Action have taught hundreds of people – students, nonprofit staff and boards, and other groups – about displacement.
The Legal Clinic is proud to be a home for People Power Action, and provides administrative and organizational support through Kristi and staff attorney Caitlin Cocilova. We believe in creating space and support for people to lift up their own voices and work in cooperation to build a District that serves the needs of those who often find themselves at the margin.
Our systemic reform efforts are rooted in the experiences of direct client work, and we strive each day to learn from the true experts in the topics our work surrounds – those who have personal experience with homelessness and housing instability. Caitlin’s legal and policy advocacy work stems from the community work she takes part in through People Power Action. In addition to informing our perspective on land use-related issues such as DC’s Comprehensive Plan and the DC’s process for disposition of publicly owned properties for which the District government says there is no public use, this work formed the basis for a key note presentation that Caitlin delivered in fall 2019 at Duquesne University School of Nursing’s annual McGinley-Rice Symposium. The symposium’s various presentations, all of which you can see here, focused on homelessness, and in Caitlin’s, titled “Meeting People Where They are: A Community Lawyering Perspective,” she carried People Power Action’s focus and values to Pittsburgh, where she connected the dots between development and displacement across different cities and the ways in which the struggles for space mirror one another and require solidarity.
As People Power Action heads into its fourth year, its members will continue to provide invaluable knowledge for District residents through their trainings, and continue to build a welcoming community for people who want to push for transformation of systemic injustices. We’ll share future opportunities to engage with People Power Action, and invite you to read more about the group here.
 The McGinley-Rice Symposium site does not require you to have an account to log in, only that viewers enter a name and email address in order to view the presentation videos.