National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week: Inspired by her parents, and those who helped her during 9 years of homelessness

The last of our daily essay from interns and staff during National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week.

CCH organizing interns, including Anita (first row,right) during after-hours phone banking for the minimum wage
Anita (first row, right) and CCH organizing interns during after-hours phone banking for the minimum wage.

My name is Anita Strange-Rebecchi. As part of earning my master’s in social work from Chicago State University, I am interning with the community organizing department at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). 

I have an understanding of the value of advocacy: I was on the receiving end. I was raised in a middle-class household, taught middle-class values and expectations. My mother and father worked exceptionally hard to make sure my sister and I received a good education.

My parents would often say, “If you see someone who needs a helping hand, you help that person. In helping that person, it is not always necessary to let them know it was you that gave them the help.”

My parents were advocates for those who could not speak for

Anita (front) tweeting photos during a Fight for 15 strike on the South Side in September
Anita (front) tweeting photos during a Fight for 15 strike on the South Side.

themselves, for those who were in need.

As I grew older, I made many missteps and bad decisions. Eventually, this resulted in me literally becoming homeless for nine and a half years. I fell in a deep depression because of the deaths of my parents, and that made it hard to pull myself out of that existence. I lived in shelters. I lived under expressway bridges. I slept on buses and on the rapid transit, from end to end. I begged for food and I begged for money. It was a dangerous existence.

Ironically, I had become one of those persons who my mother and father helped.

As a homeless person, I saw many sides of human nature. I met people who wanted to take advantage of me and people who helped me during my ascent out of homelessness. Those that assisted me were genuine and had good intentions. They became my advocates. During this process, I began to truly understand the work of my parents.

I had the good fortune to meet people who gave advice, counsel and encouragement to find solutions to my problems. The value of their advocacy was in being responsive to my needs. Their aim was to empower me to overcome self-made barriers that delayed my ascension to living a quality life. They helped me deal with that inner person who had been battered and broken. Even though I was consumed with survival, I listened to them and begin to internalize their counsel.

I understand the value of advocacy when working with individuals, groups, or systems. I was someone who benefited from advocacy. There were people who spoke up for me when I could not muster enough courage to speak for myself. Those advocates helped me aim for a better way of life. Now I am a responsible, productive member of society.

I chose to do my internship with CCH because I want to be a “change agent” for homelessness. I believe change agents assist in altering the capabilities of human beings and organizations. My life experiences gave me insight and understanding of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of services and the good counsel of social workers. I believe my work with CCH will teach and mold me into the agitator I was meant to be, helping me reach my goals of becoming a good advocate and excellent policymaker for marginalized communities.

About Anita: I am a 55-year-old candidate for my MSW at Chicago State University. I was homeless for almost 10 years during the 1990s. I have been clean and sober for 15 years, and have an X on my back. I went back to school to get my bachelor’s degree when I was 48 years old and I haven’t stopped yet. I own a two-flat with a commercial basement. That is where I intend to open my own non-profit working with children of color with special needs.