Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nov. 27, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Local View: Remote testimony increases access


Two days before Christmas last year, I felt a sense of relief having just paid up every penny I owed on rent using emergency rental assistance. Then, just three days after Christmas, I received a 60-day notice to vacate my home.

I went through the Volunteer Lawyers Program and thought we would be able to negotiate a later date, but our landlord wouldn’t entertain it. By mid-March, my family of four found ourselves unhoused. We had lived in our home for just under three years.

Soon after, I was told there was an effort to ban “no cause” evictions in the Legislature. I could lend my voice and testify to my own personal experience and hopefully make a difference in others’ lives. We believe that what happened to our family shouldn’t happen to anyone else.

With everything going on in my life there was no way I could physically travel three hours to Olympia on a weekday just to speak for two minutes. I work full time, and couldn’t further risk my family’s stability by missing a day of work. My elected officials would likely never hear my story.

When I learned the 2021 legislative session was virtual because of COVID-19, I realized I could actually share my story with my legislators from “home.” We were lucky enough to stay with family at the time, but it was cramped. They had an extra 500-square-foot storage room full of tools, and that’s where the four of us lived — with a total of nine of us in the house. We had shower curtains hanging up to separate little spaces in our room, and we had a tent outside to have a little more space. None of us had cellphone service, but we did have Wi-Fi.

From our storage room, curtains hung behind me to block the tools, family members and dog from appearing on screen. I logged onto the virtual committee meeting, and I testified about our experience. I laid it all out there, and made my case for a change in our residential landlord tenant laws. In all, I testified in three committee hearings and met virtually with my senator.

I was testifying during my lunch break. I couldn’t testify on the clock, but I could briefly clock out at lunch to go to a meeting with a lawmaker to talk about what’s going on in my community.

One of the most impactful things was that I was sharing my story in real time. It wasn’t that I was explaining some event that had happened in my past that I had now recovered from and years down the road had money and mental space to reflect on. I had just been evicted two weeks before, and because of virtual testimony, I could participate in legislative change now. Most people who are going through a housing crisis may never make it to a legislative hearing in Olympia.

If I take one positive development from COVID, the increased access to services and channels to share our voices have been priceless. Hopefully we’re able to keep this access permanently.

This year there were more people testifying than I’ve ever seen. It speaks to who now has access, and to who has historically not had access. Our legislators should be proud that they took this step, because they can say, “We were the leaders who made this change.”

I’m joining more than 1,000 people and 200 organizations across the state who sent lawmakers a letter this month calling for virtual legislative participation to be made permanent, and for expanded accessibility for people with disabilities, people participating from institutions, people who speak languages other than English, and, yes, people who don’t have stable homes. We are your constituents. Our voices and votes should have equal weight to anyone else’s, whether we’re able to travel to Olympia or not.

This is an equity versus equality issue. If we go back, this sends the message that my voice and the voices of so many others no longer matter.

Dominique Horn is a community-based worker and advocate living in Clark County.