Kirk McClain of Solid Ground’s Diversion team was recently named to the Governing Committee of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). Of the nine representatives, Kirk is one of three who have lived experience with homelessness.
The committee held its first meeting May 21 – a key step toward the implementation of the KCRHA approved by the King County Council and the Seattle City Council in late 2019. The KCRHA will oversee countywide policy, funding, and services for people experiencing homelessness. The Governing Committee approves all KCRHA plans and budgets.
Kirk became homeless in September 2009 and was unhoused for five years. During that time he completed his paralegal certification at Highline College, often sleeping behind the library building. He worked in the legal department at Amgen, but his experiences living unhoused led to an interest in pursuing social service work. Stints at Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) and Capitol Hill Housing followed, before Kirk came to Solid Ground two years ago.
Before the pandemic, Kirk provided one-to-one intake and diversion services as a member of Solid Ground’s North Seattle Regional Access Point (RAP) team, helping people who apply for services through King County’s Coordinated Entry for All. Working from home during the pandemic, Kirk has been providing resources to people at risk of homelessness due to job loss and other factors brought on by COVID-19.
More than 1,700 people applied to receive some of the $500,000 in funding Solid Ground received through United Way’s Home Base rental assistance program. Only about 200 will get funds. So, Kirk is reaching out to folks who did not make the cut, sharing other resources that can help them.
“For me, this is what having a voice is all about – learning how to communicate effectively with lawmakers.” ~Kirk McClain, Diversion & Assessment Specialist
While he was living unhoused, Kirk had what he calls a “life-changing experience” that led to his appointment to the governing committee. “I went to a community ‘meet your Lawmakers’ meeting that Poverty Action sponsored. … From that day on I thought ‘Oh, my God, I can actually have a conversation with a lawmaker – me, a homeless person.'”
Once exposed to the power of personal advocacy, Kirk was hooked. He got involved with Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s Emerging Advocate program, became a regular presence in Olympia, and in 2015 was named Housing Alliance Advocate of the Year.
Through this process, Kirk developed “a great desire to know how laws are made and how advocacy can affect change in what legislation becomes law,” he wrote on the Alliance’s website. “For me, this is what having a voice is all about – learning how to communicate effectively with lawmakers.”
The Governing Committee presents an amazing opportunity to hone those skills, as the committee includes some of the most influential politicians in Seattle and King County:
- Dow Constantine, King County Executive
- Reagan Dunn, King County Councilmember
- Joe McDermott, King County Councilmember
- Jenny Durkan, Mayor of Seattle
- Lorena Gonzalez, Seattle City Councilmember
- Andrew Lewis, Seattle City Councilmember
- Nancy Backus, Mayor of Auburn, representing Sound Cities Association
- Angela Birney, Mayor of Redmond, representing Sound Cities Association
- Ed Prince, Renton Councilmember, representing Sound Cities Association
- Johnathan Hemphill, representing leaders with lived experience
- Kirk McClain, representing leaders with lived experience
- Zaneta Reid, representing leaders with lived experience
Kirk hopes to use his place at the table to advocate for increased resources to address homelessness among people of color.
“You know when you hear statistics about the ‘disproportionate impact on the black community?’ I always think if it is disproportionately impacting black people, why are black people not getting more solutions geared toward that group?” he asks.
“My vision for how I can impact or be a part of the group is to be myself. I’m there because I have lived experience with homelessness; I am going to focus on my experience, the needs I thought were not being met as far as services when I was homeless, and the pathways to getting off the street.” ~Kirk McClain
“I said that in my interview to be on the committee. One of the interviewers said, ‘That is all I needed to hear.’ My vision for how I can impact or be a part of the group is to be myself. I’m there because I have lived experience with homelessness; I am going to focus on my experience, the needs I thought were not being met as far as services when I was homeless, and the pathways to getting off the street.
“I kept a journal that whole five years I was homeless – how I felt about being rejected for services, about the criminalization of homelessness, all that stuff I thought was interesting. I thought it was something I want to try and do something about,” Kirk says.
“The first meeting with the KCRHA was intense, interesting, exciting, and at times hard to follow,” Kirk reports. “I can say that there is A LOT of work to do, but fortunately there are a lot of very capable and intelligent people on this Committee. I was just trying to keep up with the political jargon and not sound like I didn’t belong there the few times I spoke up. I really look forward to working with this group, and hopefully adding a perspective not heard so much in those kinds of groups.”