How did you meet Paul and get to know WRAP?/Why did LA CAN join WRAP?
I met Paul at a conference in Ventura. I can’t remember the conference, but I remember we were sitting on our patio at the hotel, and he was downloading his full vision for WRAP. Pitching LA CAN as a founding member. It was a no brainer for us. LA CAN was still relatively new at the time, but Pete and Paul had worked together for a long time. And when you work with Paul, he builds your trust – I don’t think there’s ever been one trust issue between WRAP and LA CAN, which is kind of unheard of in a 15 year partnership. But it was a no brainer because of WHO would be doing the work and the criteria for membership. LA CAN was founded on those principles, and remains the only organization in LA that is a membership organization primarily of unhoused and formerly unhoused people. Others have stepped up and in in some similar ways, but not in decision making, sustaining an organization, collective approach, etc. And then the unapologetic focus on housekeys not handcuffs, in all its slogans and forms, was key. Not enough people or orgs were doing that – still aren’t, but it was far worse then.
What in your opinion is the role/expertise WRAP plays in this moment after 40 years of modern-day houselessness and growing criminalization – but also the growing movement of radical organizations and people’s movements fighting for the world we want?
This one is hard to pin down for me. The expertise that WRAP brings is the critical combination of lived experience, data/research, and direct action that fuels movements and makes fundamental change. WRAP also brought groups together, and helped develop emerging groups, that otherwise could have been isolated in their regions and therefore less effective. Although not all LA organizations involved in the growing radical movement would meet WRAP member requirements, they have local orgs to connect with, by led by, and bring additional resources into the work. WRAP changed the conversation deeply through Without Housing – and gradually the charity viewpoint that homelessness was about individual choices and/or conditions changed. I mean, the bummer about the 40 years of work is that we don’t have nearly enough wins – but through Paul and WRAP members, we have far better defined the real solutions, systemic change needed to end homelessness and drug the mainstream our way at least a bit. And challenged, every day, the punitive, racist, inhumane criminalization and forced displacement efforts to erase people. Without that challenge, we know it would be much worse for people. And we will win. When, we don’t know – but that’s what’s core to WRAP also – we are in it, we aren’t accepting the status quo, we are going to be part of this huge, revolutionary win – even though we know it’s not now.
Paul has also been doing this for 40 years – Want to send a love message to Paul – about his impact on your work – and/or about his impact overall?
Paul is incredible. He talks the talk and walks the walk – without fail, without compromise, without traditional accolades or acknowledgment. And he leads with love – not just in concept, but in reality. He loves his colleagues and cares about the whole WRAP family in ways that I could never sustain – because it takes a lot out of you to give like that. He’s a brilliant, funny, hard-core, committed person, organizer, and activist. And it’s fun to smoke cigarettes and drink Bud with him too – work hard/play hard balance may be one of his superpowers.
Dennison began her tenure as Executive Director with Venice Community Housing in January of 2016. She has over 25 years of experience in non-profit management, organizational development, housing development, community organizing and housing policy to VCH. Prior to joining VCH, Becky was the Co-Executive Director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) where she worked alongside low-income and homeless leaders in Downtown and South Los Angeles to promote social and racial justice through community organizing, civic participation, and public policy development. She held prior positions in other homeless services and advocacy organizations, and is a guest lecturer and instructor at numerous colleges and universities on topics such as housing policy, criminalization of poverty, and equitable development. Since her arrival at VCH, the organization has expanded its housing portfolio in operations from 196 to 280 units, and has an additional 300+ units in varying stages of the development pipeline. Both Venice Community Housing and LA CAN have been active in the fight for the human right to housing, as well as vehement opposition to criminalization and forced displacement of unhoused residents.