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An Open Letter to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

THE SHORT VERSION: At the last National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) national conference two years ago, a group of formerly homeless survivors of domestic violence stood up and made a statement about the (mis)treatment of homeless issue within NCADV. The statement was also endorsed by the Queer People of Color Caucus of NCADV. The NCADV has promised to address the issue at the board level and make a formal response, but has not done so for two years despite repeated requests. The next NCADV conference will take place in Denver in less than two weeks, as if nothing happened.

July 4, 2004

Dear NCADV Members,

During the last National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference held in Orlando in 2002, a session titled "Domestic Violence and Homelessness Open Forum" was put on by the NCADV. Several formerly homeless survivors of domestic violence showed up at the "open forum," only to discover that they were not invited.

No, they were not physically removed from the "forum," but the intent for the "open forum" was clear: it was not meant as a "forum" for homeless or formerly homeless people to speak, but a focus group of service providers to ponder such questions as what makes some victims of domestic violence go to a homeless shelter instead of a domestic violence shelter, and other questions that are removed from topics of any significance. No local homeless people were invited to participate, or were even informed about the forum either.

While social workers and administrators were having this "focus group," the local homeless people were packing the Orlando city council meeting in futile effort to stop the city from adopting an ordinance making it a crime to sit down or lay down on the sidewalk. We had hundreds of feminists from all over the country in Orlando at the same time Orlando was making it a crime to be poor, and yet we did nothing. Nothing, except having a focus group on homelessness to pretend that we care about homeless survivors at all.

Before the end of the conference, I co-authored a statement demanding a better collaboration between NCADV and homeless advocacy groups (as opposed to those who provide services to them) as well as a real "open forum" for the 2004 conference. The Queer People of Color Caucus endorsed the statement, and helped us read the statement during the closing ceremony of the conference. (We initially asked NCADV board members to allow us to read the statement during the closing, but they refused, forcing Queer People of Color Caucus to take over the stage so that the statement could be read.) There was a big applause from the audience after the statement was read, and the NCADV board member with a microphone promised to address the statement and respond.

It has been nearly two years, but we still have not received any responses from the NCADV board.

On December 1 last year, I sent in a workshop proposal for the 2004 conference titled "Feminism, Power & Accountability Within the Shelter System." I did so because it was the last day to submit a proposal, and I thought that NCADV still had the chance to make some sort of response before the conference.

But by February I was not really sure anymore, so I sent an email to an NCADV staffer to complain about the fact that NCADV board had not acted on its promise for a year and half. I included a copy of the statement also. The staffer told me that she forwarded the message to the board members, but still no response.

On March 9, I received an email from the same staffer asking me to present a workshop about homelessness and domestic violence at the 2004 conference. I was certainly interested, but I found it arrogant and irresponsible for the NCADV to ditch its promise to us and then expect us to help them, so I replied neither accepting or rejecting the invitation, only reminding her that I was still waiting for the NCADV to respond to the statement from 2002. Still, no response.

Between then and now, I received several requests from NCADV to complete presenter information sheet and conference registration for the upcoming conference. Each time I replied that I was still waiting for the NCADV to respond to the statement before I would commit myself to presenting or attending at the conference. The staffer assured me that the message was sent to those in charge and wished me luck, but apparently I am completely out of luck when it comes to getting the NCADV to fulfill its promise.

And today, I received a brochure for the conference, which lists my "Feminism, Power & Accountability" workshop among the list of invited workshops--and no forum or discussion on homelessness that I could find in the entire conference! And this is the conference to address "Radical Organizing for Change"? Give me a break.

I was not expecting (although I was definitely hoping) that the NCADV would agree to all demands we made in the statement. But I had expected until now--and we have less than ten days before this year's conference--that the NCADV would at least listen to us, and not just ignore it. I have given them more than enough time and repeated opportunities to redeem itself, but sadly to no avail.

I had initially began writing an open letter directed toward the NCADV board members, but I found it too infuriating to have to write to them over and over and continue to be ignored. That is why I am writing to you, the members and supporters of the NCADV.

I believe that the actions and inactions of the NCADV leadership regarding this issue has been contrary to every principle of unity that the organization claims to uphold. Do you agree? If you agree, please do something. I have kept this issue in private emails for a long time thinking that there must be a way for the NCADV to correct its own mistakes, but as we count the final days before the conference I am sensing that the leaders of NCADV are wishing that I would either forget about their promise or just go away.

Their tactic would only work if there was just one person who must forget or go away. When many people refuse to forget or go away, they would have to find another way to deal with the controversy. That is why I ask you, members and supporters of this organization, to do something. Please let the leadership of NCADV know that you expect more from them in any way you feel is appropriate; do not become an accomplice to their irresponsible and neglectful strategy by pretending as if everything is all right at this year's conference.

(P.S. - All email exchanges between NCADV and myself will be made available to anyone upon request.)

Emi Koyama