Kathleen Palmer’s story begins in Columbus, Ohio, where she lived in a slum apartment with no gas or electricity. It was her third apartment in less than a year: since the birth of her daughter and becoming a single mother, Kathleen struggled to maintain a job and shuffled from one poor quality home to the next. She feared that social services would take her child if they observed their current living conditions, so she made the wrenching decision to have her daughter live apart from her with a friend. Once wary of receiving government aid, Kathleen quickly realized that housing assistance would be the only way to prevent the choice between child custody and living on the streets.
Over 11 million Americans spend over half their income on rent, yet affordable housing resources are scarce and under threat. We need to increase public investment in affordable housing, and in order to do that we need to change the way we advocate. We must expand our coalition beyond traditional housing stakeholders by unlocking and amplifying new voices and new channels to build awareness of housing needs. Storytelling can help achieve that.
In 2017, National Housing Trust (NHT) and Enterprise Community Partners launched Where Will We Live? to lift the voices of residents and community members in support of housing resources. The campaign uses storytelling to draw the connection between access to housing and health, education, and economic opportunity. Kathleen Palmer is one of nearly 200 residents and community members who opened their personal housing narrative to us to share. Ultimately our goal is to use story to change perspective and inspire action through empathy and shared experience.
Sharing resident stories highlights how housing directly impacts the lives of real families and real communities. These are not just faceless numbers, facts, or figures. The stories present real people: nurses, students, immigrants, refugees and single parents. Kathleen and her peers paint a vivid picture that help to deconstruct and humanize the complicated issue of housing insecurity.
Our ultimate goal and success will be in expanding advocacy through storytelling. Our Where Will We Live stories are available to any to use in their own education and advocacy. We have also created a storytelling toolkit to facilitate the creation of new stories. By offering guidance on how to create and frame a message and target the right audience, we hope to inspire new stories, new storytelling and strengthened advocacy.
Kathleen’s story has a happy ending. On her daughter’s first birthday, Kathleen received a call from Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) Management. CPO is a mission-oriented initiative to provide housing to families and communities as the foundation for transformational change. Shortly thereafter, Kathleen and her daughter moved to their new home in the Weinland Park neighborhood north of downtown Columbus, Ohio. Kathleen found work, a stable income and a home where she can look ahead and prepare for the future.
The Where Will We Live story gallery is a resource available to all National Housing Conference members. We invite you to use these stories for your advocacy or communication purposes, to help make the case for housing. Now more than ever, we need to call for greater resources to help those most in need.