SMART ALEC Launches Homeless Civic Empowerment Program

PORTLAND, Oregon — On Thursday, September 01, 2016, three Portlanders currently experiencing homelessness stepped up to voice their concerns to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.


Scott Newsome, 43; Susana Emberg, 54; and Harriet Wnorosky, 51, each made three minute speeches to the Board of Commissioners, opining on two competing shelter proposals for Multnomah County — Terminal One and Wapato.


“We brought all of this stuff, because this is homelessness,” Emberg told the Commission, gesturing to the numerous bags and packs of personal belongings and bedding they had placed behind them.


“Everywhere you go, you take everything you own with you,” she said.


homeless empowerment 2Newsome told the Commissioners that Multnomah County lacks shelter options for people whose only challenges are health-related.


“If you’re homeless on the street, and addiction is not your issue, and you’re not a Veteran, and you’re not escaping domestic violence, if your only issue is health problems, there aren’t many resources out there,” Newsome told the Commission.


Emberg told the Commission that a lot of homeless people are averse to shelters for a variety of reasons, including anxiety.


Newsome, Emberg, and Wnorosky are participants in the SMART ALEC Homeless and Low-Income Civic Empowerment Program.


SMART ALEC (State & Municipal Action for Results Today / Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration) is working to empower homeless and low-income people to petition City, County, and State Governments to create Model solutions to our affordable housing and environmental crises.


Newsome has been homeless off and on for eight years, and is no stranger to advocacy.  He was a Site Facilitator and organizer for the Occupy Seattle Movement in 2011.


Emberg has been on the street for six months, after couch surfing for a year.  Last Thursday was her first time speaking before a body of elected officials.


“Just watching the faces that I could see, it did seem like they were open to what we were saying.  It did feel kind of good to feel like someone is listening, because we often feel like nobody’s listening,” Emberg said in a statement.


SMART ALEC, with the support of private donations, is helping to remove barriers to participation for homeless and low-income people.  This includes supporting transportation, meals, and small stipends for our participants to support their advocacy work.


“Homelessness is a complicated problem, that it’s difficult to understand from a practical perspective if you haven’t experienced it,”  Newsome says.


“If you keep building shelters, et cetera, with the same formula you have now, you’re still not going to catch those people who are already outside,” Emberg says.


SMART ALEC hopes to open a Community Center as soon as funding permits, to support civic education, access to news media, community-led research, and organizing to make demands of government in a safe and secure environment.


SMART ALEC is a tax exempt, 501(c)(3); and our GoFundMe is available online here: