FEATURED STORY — “Worth the Work” from Dayton, Ohio

Worth the Work
An anonymous story as told to Tanela Hicks

One of the hardest things to do is recognize privilege and acknowledge it as a part of my life. Once you truly see the world around you and wonder how others can sit back and watch people without privilege struggle to scrape and claw themselves into basic existence, you see the heavy layers laid upon others. Layers that you never have to bear.

Everyone is eligible for quality of life. Barriers to things like food, shelter, and education should never exist. I am an Ohio attorney working to ensure tenants are heard. I work for the voiceless. I advocate for tenants’ rights to live the lives they want to live. Through the many voices I hear daily, I have learned that these basic things are not available to everyone.

Helping others fight through those barriers is part of my job. It is really more than a job; it is a calling. Helping people is a calling, and I do it with empathy, love, and without judgment. Problems and challenges in this world happen to everyone. It is the response and outcome that usually separate the haves from the have-nots. The outcome then becomes noteworthy. When you have the right tools and resources, barriers are indivisible, and those layers fall away like feathers in the wind. Despite how much I help, the stories still whisper in my mind.

My client does not have resources or support. The simple problem of missing a few shifts at work due to a factory shutdown added heavy layers of debt and past-due notices to their life. Rent is now behind. They went to the landlord and asked for help. Truth in the circumstances in tow because the factory manager lives there, too.

The landlord had no time to listen or extend. He needed payment or my tenant to vacate. In court, no one hears my client. They are all alone aside from the landlord’s team of lawyers, the judge on high, and the child. They add another heavy layer to my life, EVICTION.

If someone took the time to pull back the layers of their life, they would see the weight of this unjust, prejudiced, dark world. Inequity, judgment, and greed all piled on top of a small family. A family who just wants to exist and have a place to call home.

Maybe one day my client will get out of this rent trap. High-cost rent for places not worth the popcorn ceiling. Maybe one day my client will be able to have their own home, building generational wealth for their family. Will no one help? Is there anyone there? Are they worth the work?

I am here for you. My name is Advocate. My name is Change. My job is to get you where you want to be. You are worthy of the work, and I work for you.

I hear the stories because I am one of the few advocates listening. My heart is on my sleeve, and my client is not shielded from the wind. I try to see things through a lens that others will not look through. Sometimes I am a counselor. Sometimes I am the yellow pages directing them to organizations and programs that will listen; providing support and resources that in some cities is unavailable, and in others is already an established right.

The right to counsel in eviction cases is dismissed in Ohio, just as my client was dismissed. Their story is unheard of because of the judgment, stereotyping, and prejudice that exist throughout your system of fair housing. The system intended to help has hurt my client with leaky pipes and locational drawbacks. Right to counsel sends a message that we, the fortunate, the valued, see you.

My client could not make it to court today because their new housing placement is not on the bus line, and transportation is not available today. The court can be confusing anyway, and there has been denial after denial, never offering relief. Lawyers and authorities who went to school in full and understand what the judge is saying are present making decisions on my client’s behalf without ever peeling back the layers of the problem. Terms like “writ of restitution,” ordinances,” and “revised code 1923.04” are not clear. My client just wants to know if they can go back to their neighborhood and re-enroll their child in their school with friends and familiar teachers.

My client deserves safe housing. My client deserves stability. My client is worthy of the work. I cannot fix everything, but I can listen and offer my clients the same respect and resources that should be available to all people. No matter who you are, you are worth the work.

This story originally appeared in Facing Eviction & Housing Insecurity: Listening to Community Voices (2023), a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. 

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