The St. Mary's Center, pictured here, is among three organizations banding together to offer leadership skill-building to unhoused people. Credit: Courtesy St. Mary's Center

Day in and out, powerful decision-makers in Oakland and Alameda County make impactful choices about the homelessness services, programs, and policies to support, fund, or scrap. Often, these decisions are made without input from the people who may know the most about what works: those who’ve been unhoused themselves.

A new “leadership academy” hosted by three local organizations aims to train youth and adults with experience being homeless to advocate for policy and serve on committees and boards.

“We want to support folks in navigating the policy arena, and brainstorm effective strategies for sharing their experiences,” said Sharon Cornu, executive director of the St. Mary’s Center, the non-profit running the academy along with EveryOne Home and East Bay Housing Organizations

“It’s an opportunity to bring people together and find effective ways to communicate what works and doesn’t,” she said. 

The 15 or so participants will receive a $300 stipend each and gather monthly from June to October, initially virtually and eventually in person.

The sessions will include networking opportunities, “skill-building” workshops, and opportunities to interact with policymakers and other guest speakers, according to the organizations facilitating the academy. While each organization regularly offers leadership training for the unique populations they serve, this is the first time they’re banding together to run a program for anyone with homelessness experience in Alameda County.

The program is open to people of all ages, but where you apply depends on your age. Youth ages 18-25, currently or formerly unhoused, can apply by emailing with the subject line “Leadership Academy.” Seniors who are interested can get in touch with the St. Mary’s Center (510-923-9600) and everyone else can contact East Bay Housing Organizations (510-663-3830). 

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.