This story is being reproduced for this blog from a brochure WIN published two years ago. It is our home celebrating this victory along the way will ready us for the fight ahead for supportive housing.
Ernestine Ballesteros remembers the Great Depression. She was only five years old when her family was evicted from their home. She recalls sleeping in the park with her mom: “In a way I think I stayed a little child for a long time because of that incident, whether I knew it or not, [it] had a tremendous impact on me.”
Now at 83 years old she is one of the fiercest leaders in WIN’s Supportive Housing campaign through her church, Foundry United Methodist. Her efforts contributed to the creation 1,100 units of supportive housing for the chronically homeless in DC, including her son. When asked why she devotes so much of her time to organizing she responds, “Either you’re gonna go forward…or you’re gonna stay in the same place.”
Supportive Housing has done more for Ernestine than given her son, a Vietnam veteran who is coping with PTSD, a chance to rent an apartment. It’s given her the emotional room to focus on developing her own life. “I was taking on something that I could not fix…[but] it’s not about trying to fix people. It’s about giving them space to sort through their own problems…when you are on the street it’s crisis after crisis. [When you have a home] you have to deal with yourself. You have to make a choice whether to live or die.” Ernestine continues her organizing work with WIN, and in her spare time serves coffee to homeless families at Foundry. She knows that not everyone understands the complexities of being homeless but feels that it’s a mistake to think that homelessness is limited to people who are lazy or don’t want to work. “I wanna tell it like it is. These people are you.”