During the State of the Union address earlier this month, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke invited Milton Perez, a longtime leader of Veatch grantee, VOCAL-NY, to attend the speech as her guest. VOCAL-NY is a community organizing group dedicated to ending the drug war, mass incarceration, and homelessness in New York and across the country

“There are few who are as deserving as Milton to attend the federal address, thanks to his tireless work fighting for permanent, safe, affordable housing for New Yorkers across the state,” VOCAL-NY wrote in an email to supporters before President Biden’s speech.

Milton is an example of how Veatch grantees use leadership development and political education to empower individuals and communities. Milton first joined VOCAL-NY, as many of the group’s members do, while he was still living in a shelter. After spending five years in the shelter system, he found permanent housing through the NYC Housing Connect program, applying for the program by using free wifi at MTA subway stations.

Milton also joined VOCAL-NY’s Homelessness Union during this time. Alongside his fellow leaders, he has learned to use his personal experiences with homelessness to move the hearts and minds of lawmakers and change the policies that prevent New Yorkers from accessing permanent, safe housing. Given how critical free wifi was to his own success, for example, he and other leaders developed an idea to expand free wifi to all single adult shelters in the city.