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May 10, 2021

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Advocate for homeless builds on experience

Adam Kravitz found purpose through loss, hardship

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
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Adam Kravitz, who was homeless for nearly six years, is now an advocate for Clark County's homeless population.
Adam Kravitz, who was homeless for nearly six years, is now an advocate for Clark County's homeless population. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Adam Kravitz’s life story has been full of loss.

His older brothers died of drug overdoses in 2001 and 2004. He also lost his mother to her drug addiction about 15 years ago.

He also tells of an unexpected death of a girlfriend seven years ago, which Kravitz said broke something inside him. Alone from the deaths of so many people he loved, Kravitz chose a life on the streets, turning away from his home, his possessions and his job as a restaurant manager.

“Any time I ever had anyone close to me they seemed to die,” Kravitz said. “It was the last straw for me at this point.”

For nearly six years, Kravitz was homeless. Despite the loss of his family members due to drug addiction, he isolated himself from the rest of the world by turning to methamphetamine. It kept him warm and awake on cold nights, and helped him forget his suffering, he said.

But fast-forward to this year. After years of homelessness, multiple arrests for drug possession and nearly two years reshaping his life in drug court, Kravitz, now 49, is a local leader in the fight against Clark County’s homeless problem. He uses his own experiences to help those in the same place he once was. His nonprofit, Outsiders Inn, helps empower homeless people to connect with the services they need. Most recently, he was invited to be a peer mentor for the residents of a proposed temporary emergency village for the homeless near the Garrison Square shopping center in central Vancouver.

And as much as Kravitz still struggles to talk about his losses, his newfound purpose in life, along with a renewed faith in God, has helped the homeless advocate reconcile those losses that made him turn to homelessness in the first place.

“To put me outside made me realize that I have a bigger purpose besides being a restaurant manager,” he said. “For me, that grief all of a sudden made sense. I needed somehow to make sense of why I kept losing people. Whether that is the truth of the universe, I don’t know, but it’s my truth.”

‘Always a caregiver’

The night Kravitz’s girlfriend died, he walked away from everything. It was a selfish decision, he admits, but it was the only way he could process his losses.

Even through that period living on the streets, Kravitz kept certain habits, and began to notice distinct patterns. He had a network of fellow homeless people he would check up on. He’d leave food he’d collected throughout the day at certain checkpoints for other people to collect.

“I’d always been a waiter, I’d always been a caretaker,” he said. “When I started seeing myself coming back, I started doing what I’ve done my whole life.”

It occurred to Kravitz that he could do more to help those who were homeless on a grander scale. The early idea of Outsiders Inn was born when Kravitz was still homeless.

“I just needed a purpose,” Kravitz said. “I developed that purpose by being of service.”

But his addiction made it impossible. Kravitz knew no one would take him seriously if he was a meth addict, or even if he drank or smoked marijuana.

He was arrested several times during that period for drug possession. Finally, in July 2013, Kravitz was arrested on charges of methamphetamine possession, according to court records. For nearly two years, Kravitz worked his way through Clark County’s felony drug court program, which emphasizes recovery over punishment. He graduated in May.

“Drug court helped me with that one part that I wasn’t 100 percent in control of,” Kravitz said. “Once I got clean, I got stable.”

‘A long time coming’

Stability helped Kravitz launch nonprofit Outsiders Inn in January with his friend Ren Autrey. He’s worked with various agencies to advocate for the homeless and has helped provide food and clothing for those most in need. The two also run Homeless in Vancouver, a Facebook page where they post photos and stories of homeless people in order to humanize their struggles.

Various agencies are beginning to take notice of his work.

Kravitz is a part-time peer mentor at Consumer Voices are Born, which encourages self-sufficiency for people struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. Kravitz used CVAB’s services when he was homeless, and now is using his own experiences to better connect with CVAB’s clients.

“Adam displayed just a unique quality of connecting to people,” CVAB Executive Director Brad Berry said. “He was one of the few participants at the time that seemed interested in his own road to recovery and other individuals’ own roads. He was aware of what was going on around him and wanted to make a difference.”

Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless, also praised Kravitz, saying his knowledge of what it’s like to live on the streets has been invaluable in developing programs designed to support the homeless.

“I think the sort of amazing thing about Adam is he’s fluent in two languages,” Silver said. “He is able to relate to and speak to people who are living outside because he’s experienced it firsthand. He also has learned the language of professional homeless services and understands limitations of government funding. That’s a really rare skill set.”

Kravitz recently, for example, helped develop and conduct surveys of homeless people to determine where there are gaps in services and how to fill them, Silver said.

“Adam’s been a really great partner in helping to think through how can we come up with something that’s going to solve homelessness together,” he said. “I think we’ve had a lack of capacity locally in terms of grass-roots energy and passion around homelessness from people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness.”

Though the work is just beginning for Outsiders Inn, Kravitz said he feels like he’s earned his place among these community organizations.

“I’ve come a long way from climbing in dumpsters to going to meetings and having a voice to bring to the table for the homeless,” Kravitz said. “I try to stay as humble as possible so it doesn’t change my mission, but yes, it’s been a long time coming.”

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