I had the privilege of serving on the National Coalition for the Homeless Board of Directors with Roosevelt Darby Jr. who represented the City of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania. He had previous experience with homelessness, but that was not what defined him or how he identified himself. He was an amazing advocate for homeless people, and because of his history he knew what would make things better for those living on the streets. There was actually a wonderfully written story in the Philadelphia Daily News here. Watch for a blog entry from the National Coalition about Roosevelt here. They have a nice profile of a Speaker's Bureau participant Jesse on their site right now.
I did not realize that Roosevelt Darby had a degree in biomedical engineering from Temple until I ready John Morrison's article in the Daily News. I just knew from sitting next to Roosevelt that he always knew the right thing to do in order to improve the lives of homeless people. He was quiet and yet resolute in his positions. He did not want to argue, and was impatient with how slow it took takes to make any progress. He always wanted to get politicians to see the misery on the streets of America so they would expedite universal access to housing, employment, and behavioral health. Roosevelt seemed way more comfortable serving the needs of the individuals rather than the needs of the nation as a board member, but he endured the bylaws discussions and policy votes.
It was nice for the paper to quote Roosevelt and a letter to the editor he sent. I knew that he had a senior position at the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, but was unaware how many lives he had touched. During the push by Bush Administration to have every city develop a "plan to end homelessness" during the 2000s that swept the United States, Roosevelt and his agency took on the powers that be in Philadelphia to publish an alternative report that was based on discussions with homeless people. They pushed a real solution to homelessness, but lost to the power and money in the city pushing a more vanilla plan (which by the way, has not ended homelessness in Philadephia). His agency fell on hard times as nearly every homeless organization in America struggled. Roosevelt moved to Atlanta to help out with one of the biggest shelters in the South. He was always trying to help people with their sobriety and then helping them to find jobs. He seemed to desperately want to find everyone a place in society and the key was sober living and a job.
Some of how others described him include Barb Anderson of Jeffersonville Indiana who said,
"His passion and his life experience made for a wonderfully humane approach to housing the homeless and truly building community."
Anita of the Metro Atlanta Task Force employed Roosevelt in the late 2000s, and will most remember his "gentle straightforward magic with amazing steady results." Anita told the board that the leaders Roosevelt nurtured in Atlanta are still making a difference today. Finally, Richard from Austin worked with Roosevelt on a number of projects and staid that "He told the truth to anyone who would listen. He became a street warrior for justice."
Roosevelt Darby Jr. will be missed by the National Coalition for the Homeless, and we can take comfort in the legacy he leaves and the hundreds of lives he helped repair.
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