Jennifer (Jenny) Friedenbach is the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco where she has worked for 27 years. She has achieved significant victories alongside homeless people including successfully fighting for the creation of thousands of units of housing and rental assistance slots so people who are unhoused may leave the streets and halting of displacement of thousands more.
How and why did the Coalition become a member of WRAP? What were the needs?
After working for years to address homelessness on the local level, it became abundantly clear that we needed a national movement to end homelessness that was seeded in unhoused people’s voices. After all, it was the federal government that was responsible for the second episode of mass homelessness in the United States, and it was the federal government that had the tax base, and the federal government that cut our federal housing dollars by almost 80%, so we needed to go broader in our fight. The national orgs tended towards advocacy and were not engaged in building power, and we know that building power has to happen at the local level, building relationships and then shooting upwards. What was missing, was not enough support for local organizations and we needed all the homeless organizations to form a united front. So when Paul left the Coalition to form WRAP we were first in line to sign up!
What does the Coalition do every day to stand up for the rights of the houseless community?
We fight for housing. We fight for treatment. We fight for jobs. We fight for shelter. And we fight for human rights. We do this by organizing and building the power of homeless people and their allies to carry out campaigns using a diversity of tactics – from lawsuits, ballot initiatives, hearings, legislation, research, media, protests and more. We have a structure that centers unhoused people we connect to in outreach and ensure they are setting our agenda.
What’s needed next – how do we push forward together given that fascism and criminalization are worse than ever?
Organizing. Organizing. Organizing. There has been a lot of work done already – and we must stand on the shoulders of that work. We need to be smarter, we need to be stronger and we need to build our base outside of those who already agree with us. We need to continue to fight for what homeless people want, AND make sure more and more organizations and individuals are fighting for what homeless people want. We must become a much more powerful force nationally in order for Washington to prioritize an end to homelessness. We need homeless-led organizations in every city. Building our base is about building trust, having many one-on-one conversations over time, and partnering that with strong messaging and media. We must activate that trust and have a clear vision of where we are headed and how we will get there.
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?
WRAP plays an essential role in crafting a united front to end homelessness led by and for unhoused people. WRAP pulls together the research, the messaging, the artwork, and gives the technical assistance to make homeless-led organizations stronger. We have to do the work locally because that is where the abuse is occurring. However, we need that work braided together and that is what WRAP does. Together, all the little fish make a big fish that can tear down the systems of oppression and revolutionize the country’s response to homelessness.
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?
There is no one like Paul. This work takes fortitude. Paul has got it. This work takes endurance. Paul has got it. This work takes integrity. Paul has never let go of his integrity. He kept to his values and his vision. A vision drawn from collective and powerful work. Paul has an insane ability to break down complex issues, inspire people to join the struggle, see through false narratives and performative politics, and really truly build block by block. I have had the pleasure of working for Paul more than once. Just about everything I know in this work, I learned from Paul. I can’t even explain how much influence he has had on my worldview, on my work to end homelessness in San Francisco. To name just a few Paulisms: Moving from an “I” to a “we”, the importance of outreach, the mentality of working ourselves out of a job, keeping a focus on ending homelessness, knowing policymakers are targets, not allies, that housing is also a way to create jobs, the importance of building trusting relationships with decision maker’s secretaries, that nothing ends homelessness like a home, that local governments didn’t create homelessness, and its the feds that need to solve it, keeping an eye on systemic change not bandaids, the intersection of racism and homelessness, ablism and racism, the classism involved in labeling homelessness. Doing all that with a sense of humor. So many concepts that I follow carefully in my work every day I learned from Paul. Paul is truly a great, his work has taken on historic importance in this struggle and continues to influence and shape. Here is to 40 more years!