The advocacy branch of Real Change has named Dee Powers to receive the Change Agent of the Year honor. Advocacy Director Tiffani McCoy said the team picked Powers for their involvement in camp outreach, sweeps support, setting up a mutual aid waystation, getting resources to unhoused people, advocating for RV safe lots, advocating against pro-sweep Charter Amendment 29 and much more.
During the onset of COVID-19, Powers found themself in a precarious situation. Powers has a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, so they could no longer provide in-person mutual-aid support to people living in tent encampments.
For Powers, a no-contact drop site where community members could leave supplies for people living outside seemed like the perfect solution, and thus in February 2020, they conceived the waystation.
Now every Tuesday and Saturday, donors drop off supplies and Powers spends the day sorting items into bins and taking inventory. Next, volunteers show up on Wednesdays and Sundays by 1 o’clock to take the supplies to places where they’re needed most.
“It’s been a busy year,” Powers said. Powers lives in a vintage Pace Arrow motorhome on a strip of private property in SODO. Powers is not unsheltered but understands on an intimate level what it’s like to live in a space with limited access to basic amenities, making them a good point person about the supplies people living in encampments need.
Powers explained that word traveled quickly and volunteers would show up with items like socks, hygiene products, harm reduction supplies, clothing, ice packs, Tupperware and tents, carload after carload.
If they end up with a surplus of items, like after recent drop-offs of 2,000 N-95 masks and 20 gallons of hand sanitizer, Powers is quick to whip out their phone and start calling their network of organizations and mutual-aid supporters to see what supplies they are short on.
“Because of the pandemic, many of the nonprofits had to stop providing services out into the encampments, and a group of mutual aid volunteers needed supplies. … So I opened up my home for that and just provided a drop table, and it’s blown up since then,” Powers said.
Powers explained the project has turned into partnerships with nonprofits and multiple mutual aid groups throughout the city of Seattle and isn’t a small-scale operation.
“It’s anything that people need … and I pride myself on my 24-hour turnaround for donations,” Powers said. “It’s kept me busy throughout the pandemic, and I really don’t mind. … It’s a needed service so why not?” Powers said.
In an average week, Powers’ supplies are flowing into homeless encampments to at least 100 people, and when they have a surplus of items, they estimate that number could increase to 1,000 people.
When Powers isn’t sorting through donations, they are organizing against Amendment 29 and advocating for more funding for safe lots. Powers said they haven’t seen much progress toward opening more spaces for people living in their cars to park.
“With the lack of funding coming out of the city offices, it’s really hard to get anything moving forward,” explained Powers. “Fifty percent of our unsheltered community live in their vehicles, and there is no safe lot for RV’s in the immediate area. In fact, I don’t think there’s one at all right now.”
What Powers wants to see is RV safe lots with wraparound services similar to what a person might find in a tiny house village. A communal kitchen, hygiene trailer, social workers and transitioning services is what Powers believes is needed to get more people living in their cars back indoors in more stable living conditions.
While many people would look back on the last year and call the creation of a pop-up waystation as a mutual aid center a successful year, Powers is focused on the future and what they can do next.
“I recently was awarded the Solidarity Fund grant through the Coalition on Homelessness, to the tune of 2500 bucks. I will be buying flip flops galore this summer. I’m gonna be making sure that everybody’s feet get healthy before the next wet season. When you’re still stuck in your winter shoes come August, it gets tough,” Powers said.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Sept. 1-7, 2021 issue.