Housing activist is finding one more healthy way to help

Longtime affordable housing advocate George Moses moves on to new job in retirement: explaining Obamacare

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For as long as I have been a neighborhood reporter, lo these many years, I have regularly run into the inimitable George Moses -- at meetings, on the street and on the site of news, sometimes in substandard residences where he has arrived to troubleshoot for tenants at the same time I have arrived to interview them.

At the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania's recent September meeting Uptown, George was sent off to a retirement that's really a transition to another busy role. Some people can't hang up the gloves. They're almost always the people we hope won't. We all know people whose names and retirement just don't go in the same sentence believably.

George is one of those people.

An advocate for affordable housing for the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania for the past 15 years, he is segueing into a job as the East Liberty Family Health Care Center's outreach and enrollment specialist for the Affordable Care Act.

Eileen Boyle, CEO of the health care center, said he will be "educating people in our community about the insurance marketplace which opens Oct. 1, helping people to enroll."

Before the Housing Alliance's meeting, Liz Hersh, executive director of the alliance, called George to the front of the room amid a standing ovation. She called him "our guru, our spiritual guide and moral compass." He was a community activist in East Liberty who began volunteering at the alliance and went on to become president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

"He has given enough to affordable housing for one lifetime," she said. "Goodbye, George, and please come back tomorrow."

"On this road we travel," George said in response, "we have to pay homage to the folks who got us there, and many of you in this room helped me get to where I am and to where I'm going."

He began to tick off names. I recognized many of them, people past and present, enough to fill almost two pages of my reporter's notebook.

Although my scribbling was big and unwieldy because he was going so fast, it was an impressively long list -- people who labor in the low-paid trenches of housing advocacy; those who live in, depend on and become activists for housing for the poor, the near poor and the slipping; those who advocate for not just decent housing in poor neighborhoods but for decent jobs there, too; attorneys whose legal services would be unaffordable if not for their passion and overriding sense of social justice; people who work diligently and capably in government; and people who work for housing advocacy organizations to lobby for and improve laws that protect affordability.

It struck me how many people in Pittsburgh care about those who cannot afford the basics -- decent, functional housing in which the kids don't have to pile like lemurs onto a mattress on the floor.

In this super-charged world of us-vs.-them politics, there are just enough scofflaws to give the mean-spirited a measure of righteous resentment and enough elected officials who fuel that invective. But I've talked to too many well-informed social scientists and advocates in the field and seen enough consistency in data reporting not to believe that the majority of people who get subsidies need subsidies.

Too many people need jobs and better paying jobs, too. That's another disparity the poor can't change. Too many elders and children -- the bulk of the poor -- have few to no choices.

There's need out there that promises to grow, so God bless the substantial community of people who believe in dignity for everyone and demonstrate that compassion in their work.

After reluctantly ending his list of homage, saying he had surely failed to summon the names of everyone he wanted to thank, George said, "It has been an honor and a privilege to work with all of you. Thank you all for continuing to do the work you do because you are doing great, great work.

"You couldn't do what you do without everyone else in this room. We don't always agree, like family doesn't always agree. But we are family; family gets things done.

"I'm not going to say goodbye, but farewell for now."

Farewell, George. See you some tomorrow soon.

neigh_city - intelligencer - health

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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