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Meet The Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Making A Thousand Phone Calls A Night For Local Ballot Measures
"Hi, is Marie there? My name is Kendra and I'm calling on behalf of LA Voice to remind you that March 7th is an election day," Kendra Brown, 30, says into a cell phone. It's after 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and Brown is sitting at a folded table on the third floor of a church in Koreatown, where LA Voice's offices are located. She will go on to talk about homelessness in the city with the voter on the phone, and urge them to vote yes on Measure H and no on Measure S.
Brown is one of a dozen formerly incarcerated individuals who have been spending five nights a week phone-banking for local ballot measures with a focus on ending homelessness. The group, which is led by LA Voice community organizer Tim Kornegay, has been logging more than a thousand phone calls a night.
Kornegay was a nine-year-old boy the first time an LAPD officer put handcuffs on him. The South Los Angeles native, who is now 54 years old, spent much of his early life in and out of trouble with the law. "Gang life, street life, drugs, everything," he recalls. Released in August 2015 after serving a 21-and-a-half year prison sentence, Kornegay is intimately familiar with the specific challenges that formerly incarcerated individuals face as they try to reenter society and the job market.
"My passion is helping individuals like me, because I know even with the best support systems in place, there are still challenges and needs that we have that somebody needs to be able to see in order to keep us on the right track," Kornegay told LAist.
Kornegay said that working with this group over the last month has been "extremely uplifting," because "these individuals feel like you've looked past where they've been, and instead you see who they are and where they want to go." The 12-member team working out of LA Voice not only includes former rival gang members, but also two men who were previously incarcerated together at High Desert State prison.
Kornegay led a similar effort during the November 2016 election, where 30 formerly incarcerated individuals were employed to phone bank in support of Measures HHH and JJJ. Now, his team is working the phones to help pass Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that would fund programs to help homeless people transition into planned affordable housing, and to defeat Measure S (a.k.a. That Terrible NIMBY Ballot Measure), which would essentially freeze all construction in the city for the next two years.
"Measure S [passing] would diminish all the work that was done on HHH and JJJ, and it would pretty much prevent the building out of affordable housing, which is much needed in both the city and the county, considering the number of people without housing. We're trying to make a real change," Kornegay told LAist.
For Kendra Brown, the 30-year-old woman working the phones across the room from Kornegay, "Measure H is a soft spot for me, because I've actually experienced homelessness, both as an adult and as a child."
"I don't know if you've ever heard that old saying, 'Don't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of,' but, me and my mother lived that," Brown said. "We lived in a vacant house, and the people next door would let us use this extension cord to get power and we literally had a paint bucket as our toilet, because obviously the plumbing wasn't on."
"I think the work that Tim does with formerly incarcerated individuals is amazing," Brown said. "He helps people see that we are employable and we do have something to offer—we're not just criminals. It helps people like myself to stay off the street and not get discouraged or go backwards."
"This team doesn't just talk to a thousand voters every night: they get a thousand voters to engage in a conversation with them about Measure H and Measure S," Zachary Hoover, LA Voice's executive director, told LAist. "I brag about them across the state. They're amazing."
See all our previous coverage on Measure S here.