G.W. Rolle: A Spokesman for Human Dignity
G.W. Rolle is an advocate for change, communication, and human dignity. As the Community Education Coordinator at the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, he organizes the National Coalition for the Homeless' Faces of Homelessness Speaker's Bureau in St. Petersburg, FL. On September 24, 2009 G.W. Rolle was honored with a McKinney-Vento Personal Achievement Award from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. G.W. Rolle reflects upon his own experiences with homelessness, his work to end the criminalization of homelessness, and his role in speaking out for the human dignity of all people.
“I consider myself the lesser of no man and superior to no one,” says G.W. Rolle. After a lifetime of episodic homelessness, he is now an Americorps VISTA volunteer with the National Coalition for the Homeless Speakers Bureau. He also serves as the Community Education Coordinator at Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless in St. Petersburg, Florida.
On September 24, 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) honored G.W. Rolle with a Personal Achievement Award at the annual McKinney-Vento Awards ceremony. On receiving the award, Rolle says, “It is like a soldier getting a purple heart. I am definitely a soldier. I am in the fight to win and I am in until the end. It is nice to get recognition and I am very grateful.”
G.W. Rolle never expected to become a leader. He was orphaned at the age of 3, and lived in a series of foster homes until he was 12 years old. Although he had a positive relationship with his aunt, he felt out of place and became homeless at the age of 14. G.W. shares, “There was a gang of us living in a barn in Ithaca, NY, so we didn’t feel like we were homeless.” This was his first of many episodes of homelessness to come.
As a young man, G.W. was convicted of manslaughter and sent to the state penitentiary. After serving his sentence, he attended Syracuse University, majoring in English and Philosophy. He knows the charge will follow him for the rest of his life. “I’m not going to get a job at IBM, or as a teacher or a lawyer, so I have had to figure out how to make it on my own.”
G.W. joined the merchant marines and later became a chef. He lost a home to a fire, wandered in and out of jobs and homelessness in Los Angeles, Seattle, and eventually St. Petersburg, Florida. He was homeless in St. Petersburg for five years before finding stability and a home two years ago.
Now, G.W. Rolle works tirelessly as an advocate for people living on the streets. People listen to G.W. and know he is there to help. He guides people to shelters, offers access to services, lends his phone, and does whatever it takes to provide support and dignity to a community he knows from the inside. His goal is to build a bridge between people who are homeless and people who are housed.
G.W. speaks about the need for a change in attitude. “The best way to solve a problem is to pick a weed up by the roots. If you dig it out, it won’t come back. The root of homelessness is that people do not have homes. If you chop weeds down through criminalization of the homeless, then you are just giving the weed a haircut. The byproduct is just more weeds. It is not for other people to judge who deserves a house. Everyone deserves a house.”
His efforts to develop a National Speakers Bureau require constant effort. He is currently working to find more schools, colleges, businesses, and non-profit organizations to host speakers who tell their stories of homelessness . “The Speakers Bureau includes a person who was beaten for no reason, a woman who escaped domestic violence and had her children taken from her because she was living on the streets, and people who have aged out of the foster care system.” He tries to expose the community to these stories to open dialogue and share the message of human dignity for all.
“Everyone has the right to a house, to food, and to determine his own destiny every which way they want to go. It is not okay to be persecuted because you do not have these things.”
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