Soapbox Under the Bridge organizer Patrick Nolen has decided to change the paradigm of people speaking on behalf of the homeless, by training homeless people to advocate for themselves.
Nolen, who served as a community organizer at Sisters of The Road for three years until last year, is now one of the co-directors of Soapbox, a small nonprofit aimed at new solutions and new answers to homeless and low income issues, here in Portland and across the universe.
To that end, Nolen is about to start classes around community organizing for homeless people, "doing everything from how to write to your congressman to how to give a three minute speech to city council," he says. "Also, how to do a lobby visit. Everything from that to good interaction with police, how to be a peacekeeper at a march, how to give a good interview, and write a press release."
"I think there are other people that recognize this as an issue," says Nolen. "But it's not appearing to be done on a grand scale. If you look at the history of organizing, the best organizing work ever done is actually by the people affected by the problem. You can have people do the work for you, and do the organizing for you, and go cry out at city hall for you. But until you get people who are affected by the problem, you're missing part of your credibility."
"I was homeless for about eight years here in Portland," says Nolen. "And I learned a lot through both volunteering and my stint as an organizer. It's a skillset that I've learned, that I hope to transfer to a lot of other people and help them garner."
The trainings are planned for the next couple of months.
"They're a direct response to my experience over the last four or five years," he says. "Where I really realized that if you want something to go your way at city hall, you can't just have the logical, humane answer. You have to have a deep, resounding voice from a lot of people. The more people who receive this kind of training, the more powerful we are."