Affordable Housing Leads to a Life of Civic Engagement for Deaka McClain
by IAN NEVAREZ
Deaka McClain aspires to a career in public service. So when she heard about a community forum in her neighborhood that featured two leading political candidates speaking on an issue she cares about-- the pressing need for affordable housing-- she was eager to register. The morning of the event though, Deaka felt under the weather and reluctantly called her contact at HOPE to tell them she most likely would miss the event.
For many years now Deaka has used her strengths and passion for public service to tirelessly advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations in her community. But maybe a break from her activism for one night was in order.
Deaka has lived in a HOPE home since 2001. So naturally that particular evening she wanted to show her support for an issue that is close to her heart. "For me to have my own place means peace of mind and independence," Deaka said.
“I sit on the Client Advisory Committee at Harbor Regional Center, and recently we talked about the challenges that people with disabilities are facing in finding affordable housing…that if you are not with HOPE, the rent is too expensive. You know we have some clients that are homeless because they can’t afford market rent?”
It is trademark Deaka that even though she has access to affordable housing through HOPE, her concern is with others who do not. That is because she knows how challenging the issue has been in her own life.
“When we were having this discussion,” she continued, “It made me think about how fortunate I am to say that I live in a HOPE home. Everyone doesn’t have that opportunity, and I realize that actually, HOPE saved my life.”
Prior to moving in with HOPE, Deaka bounced between different family members’ homes. She stayed for a while with in-laws during her marriage. Unfortunately that living situation deteriorated and became unhealthy. After her divorce, Deaka was forced to look for other options. She quickly became discouraged as it was all too apparent that someone with her resources had few options in finding a safe, stable, and affordable home.
She is grateful that around that time Harbor Regional Center introduced her to HOPE. In a matter of six months Deaka was given the chance to move into a HOPE home. She said, “If I hadn’t been given that opportunity, I know I wouldn’t have the life I have today.”
She feels that because she received stable, affordable housing she no longer stressed about where she would sleep each night. For the first time in many years this allowed her to focus on school.
“Before I moved into a HOPE home, I couldn’t even think about school,” she said. “I was so worried about my home life. That all changed. I was now free to go to school and get my work done.”
Just last month Deaka received her master’s degree in public policy and administration from CSULB. Though her education is a reward in and of itself, she has parlayed this achievement into her advocacy work in the community. Deaka has sat on the boards and committees of several public service organizations.
She has been a member of the Harbor Regional Center’s Client Advisory Committee, Client Services Committee, and Self Determination Committee. She has also sat on the City of Long Beach’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Disabilities, LA CARE’s Health Care Advisory Committee, Disability Rights of California’s Program and Planning Committee, and California State University’s Systemwide Advisory Committee on Services for Students with Disabilities.
“It worked out for me,” Deaka admitted, “but everyone isn’t fortunate like that. HOPE provided me a place to stay, but it also provides me a place to stay within the means of my income. If I was to move today, I couldn’t afford to live in a regular studio.”
Deaka ended up attending the community forum after all. She sat toward the front the auditorium and heard the candidates give their visions of a Los Angeles County that is moving toward an end to homelessness and creating greater access to affordable housing.
When asked about her attendance at the event, in spite of being sick. All she could say was, “This is where I need to be.”