By Vicky Nguyen, Spectrum News 1
- Jason Mercado moved into his new apartment unit after experiencing homelessness for over a year
- Mercado is paying it forward by becoming a trained housing advocate through United to End Homelessness’ program which is empowered by Orange County United Way
- Becoming a housing champion will require Mercado to speak in front of Anaheim City Council, planning commissions and write letters to leaders
- Mercado is rebuilding his baked goods business, Sweet Mission
ANAHEIM, Calif. — This key is unlocking a passion Jason Mercado didn’t know he had.
“I saw the need and I need to help somebody else. I need to help be that voice,” said Mercado.
He moved into an apartment unit in Anaheim two months ago after experiencing homelessness for over a year. Mercado said he lost his job as a cook and struggled to find another one during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It takes a toll on you mentally,” said Mercado. “You think you might have a place to sleep, but the police come or somebody steals your stuff. Anything can happen.”
He got his apartment thanks to WelcomeHome OC, an Orange County United Way Program, aimed at creating more permanent supportive housing options.
Instead of forgetting the generosity he received and determined to pay it forward, Mercado joined the organization’s Housing Champions Advocacy Network which will encourage him to speak and write to the Anaheim City Council.
“This is a product from someone who took that training, who took a chance on me and helped me,” said Mercado.
Becks Heyhoe is the executive director of United to End Homelessness with Orange County United Way and an advocate helping end the marginalization of communities facing homelessness and housing insecurity. She is leading the Housing Champions Advocacy Network which has trained about 170 people like Mercado to be a voice for more affordable housing and permanent supportive housing developments at city council and planning commission meetings.
“This really does matter to elected officials,” said Heyhoe. “They want to hear from people that live in the community that they represent.”