Friday, August 03, 2001

Whitehead, once homeless, takes helm of national agency

By Emily Biuso
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Donald Whitehead, a Cincinnati homeless advocate and former homeless man, begins his job Monday as the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

        Mr. Whitehead, of Batavia, is the first African-American and first formerly homeless person to hold the position. At age 38, he is also the youngest to hold the post.

        By appointing him, the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless is living its mission statement, Mr. Whitehead said.

        “The only way to truly empower people is to create leaders indigenous to that population,” he said.

        Local homeless advocates who have worked with Mr. Whitehead at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, downtown, said he is a perfect choice.

        “He's a great homeless advocate because he's experienced it himself. He knows the struggles people are going through on a daily basis,” said Alicia Beck, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.

        Mr. Whitehead's last day as program supervisor for Goodwill Industries is today.

        He has also served as executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and helped start Street Vibes, a newspaper produced by and for the homeless in Cincinnati.

        He has served on the board of directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless since 1998, and was chairman of the board for the last two years.

        Sue Watlov Phillips, a member of the national coalition's search committee, said Mr. Whitehead's professional work, personal experiences and passion made him the right choice for the job. He was appointed July 13.

        Mr. Whitehead was homeless for five years in the 1990s, living with friends, family and in a shelter.

        He lived at the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine for six months in 1995 and 1996.

        “If I had envisioned this is what I'd be doing, I would have ran out of the door,” Mr. Whitehead said with a laugh.

        “Once you get involved in the homeless cause and get involved in the systematic causes,” he said, “it's impossible to walk away.”


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