Monique George — known to most as Mo — might be new to her role as Executive Director of Picture the Homeless, but her work as a community activist and organizer dates back decades. Under George’s leadership–and with the assistance of current or formerly homeless people–Picture the Homeless will continue to pursue its mission to provide access to housing, combat police brutality, and challenge media stigmas of homeless people. While organizing with the homeless community in New York, Picture the Homeless has led the charge in winning over 100 policy and legislative changes aimed at improving the quality of life for the homeless. Next for George? A fierce tactical approach for continuing to combat homelessness, including generating original research and task forces to tackle this complex issue from all fronts.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work? I began organizing in college with New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and after college continued with 1199 SEIU, and most recently with Community Voices Heard (CVH), doing work to preserve public housing in New York City.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliff’s Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake. I work with an amazing group of currently and formerly homeless New Yorkers who have joined together to raise their collective voices to create social change around the laws and policies that criminalize homeless people. They do this while also fighting to force the city to develop more affordable housing for extremely-low-income New Yorkers. What’s at stake is the heart of this city, and the question – whose city is this? As rents continue to skyrocket and politicians fail to address mass displacement, all of which disproportionately impacts communities of color, the numbers of people experiencing homelessness will continue to grow. All New Yorkers are impacted by the housing crisis, and all New Yorkers, homeless and housed, have to work together to decide whether this will be a city that’s just for the very rich.
What do you find most fulling about your work? Watching people find their power and using that power to win changes that effect their daily lives, and the lives of millions of other New Yorkers.Members of Picture the Homeless have won over 100 concrete policy & legislative changes, all while dealing with police abuse, shelter staff malfeasance, hunger, lack of sleep, and tons of other challenges most New Yorkers just can’t imagine. If they can keep on fighting, the rest of New York City has no excuse.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge? My proudest achievement with this work is the ability to still be doing it after 26 years! In that time I have won millions for public housing, shifted major policies and helped develop amazing organizers. While this has been a huge achievement, my greatest challenge is to continue to do this work, especially when you look at things like our new presidential administration. It gets hard to stay motivated day after day, because this work requires so much of ourselves. Building support and finding funding for this work is tough – people don’t always understand that homelessness is a social justice issue, or that homeless people have the power to organize for social change – but our members and our work speak for themselves.