Meet the Community Fellows: Team Oakland

An interview with the Oakland Fellows on housing, tech as a force for good, and drawing on lived experience to uplift your community
The Oakland theatre
Photo credit Tom Coates/Flickr

Despite everything that this year threw at us, we were able to launch our 2020 Community Fellowship program this fall. In this series, we’ll be introducing you to the 2020 Fellowship cohort, in their own words.

The third chapter of our “Meet the Fellows” series introduces Team Oakland. Code for America has collaborated with the City of Oakland over the years through our OpenOakland Brigade, so we were thrilled to welcome them as a government partner for the Fellowship program. Their problem statement is:

“How might the City of Oakland (and Alameda County) provide their population of people experiencing homelessness with available supportive services based on their present location?”

Team Oakland is bringing their skills and their lived experience to help answer that question. We caught up with project manager Adorable Jasmine, engineer Amee Covarrubias, and designer Latorree “Tori” Howard about the importance of community work—especially for unhoused residents—and what they hope to get out of their Fellowship experience.

What inspired you to apply for the Community Fellowship?

Adorable: I’ve dedicated the past 10 years of my personal and professional life to addressing social determinants of health within the public health/nonprofit sector. Joining the Fellowship offers me the continued learning experience of merging community-based efforts with technology to create interventions that hopefully offer a positive impact for marginalized Oaklanders.

Amee: I became a software engineer because I believe in the power of technology as a force of good in the world. With the right vision, a few lines of code can inspire movements, improve the lives of everyday people, and properly resource struggling communities. I applied to the 2020 Community Fellowship program because I felt like I was living in a country that I didn’t recognize anymore. I want to use my programming skills and life experiences to help create a better future for my community and country through civic tech.

Tori: I have always worked for/with nonprofit organizations here in Oakland, and I was looking for my next opportunity. When a close friend told me about this Fellowship which aims to serve people experiencing homelessness in Oakland, I knew this was where I needed to be. As someone who grew up housing insecure in Oakland, I felt that this was a perfect opportunity to apply my experiences for the betterment of my community.

What draws you to community work?

Adorable: I grew up in a mixture of triumph and tragedy, which I’ve channeled into a desire to live in a healthy and thriving community as an adult. I am proud to be a part of a movement towards bringing more civic tech opportunities to ‘people with lived experiences.’ I hope other community members in Oakland view this as a pathway to express the leadership and innovation needed to close local socioeconomic gaps.

Amee: What draws me to community work is my personal journey. I grew up in an under-resourced community and even at a young age, felt like I was underestimated. When I was a teenager, I had mentors in government who took me under their wing and challenged me to exercise my voice through government work. Now as an adult, I’m passionate about community work because I feel a sense of responsibility to give back to the community that helped shape the person that I am today. In these turbulent times, I want to advocate for the wellbeing of our society’s most marginalized.

Tori: I grew up with a mother and grandmother who were committed to being active in the Oakland community. Supporting everything from public health and safety to education and food security. My role models were strong women who believed that giving back to and uplifting your community is something you do naturally without having to be told.

Why is getting supportive services and resources to unhoused residents in your community important to you?

Adorable: A couple of years ago I suffered a big trauma that made it challenging to secure resources, which led me to become housing insecure. It was a challenging time to stay grounded and get on my feet, but luckily I had a solid social circle to help keep me afloat. I’ve felt (albeit, not as deeply compared to those unhoused in the long-term) some of the stress and emotional strain of being unhoused, and hope our project can help ease suffering in any amount.

Amee: It’s the utmost critical time for getting supportive services and resources to unhoused residents. We are living through multiple pandemics that are exponentially affecting unhoused residents. It’s important to me that unhoused residents have access to information about resources that can potentially improve their quality of life when it’s needed most.

Tori: Statistically speaking, the people who end up unhoused are the ones society should have most closely protected: People who identify as Black, LGBT+, veterans, people with physical/mental health concerns, children and single parents. I consider getting resources and supportive services to unhoused residents to be a vital step in counteracting systemic injustices that disproportionately plague these communities.

What are you most excited about, or looking forward to learning, during your Fellowship?

Adorable: I am excited about the opportunity to support the team with user testing. I love receiving feedback and figuring out how to integrate it. I am also enjoying the mentorship from past Fellows and people within Code for America; the human-centered culture at Code food America is an inspiring approach that I am hoping to ground into my Fellowship experience.

Amee: I’m most excited about what we can accomplish together as a team. We are three women of color who come to work everyday enthusiastic about learning how we can best serve our community through this project. Our passions and lived experiences drive the project forward. This project isn’t just an assigned task for us, it’s personal. I hope that what we create together helps to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness and inspires more people to enter the civic tech space.

Tori: My vision with this project is to help lay a foundation for improving services to people experiencing homelessness and those at risk, to have access to the resources they need in a convenient and timely manner. In the long term, my hope is that by connecting people to resources and vice versa the overall number of people experiencing homelessness and the number of people who return to homelessness will decrease.

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