How does such a big heart fit into such a tiny body? Mara Raider started working at the Coalition on Homelessness in 1991 as a young, bright-eyed, idealistic college student. Almost 16 years later, we are sad to announce Mara Raider is leaving the Coalition.
She started with “Empty the Shelters,” a program that recruited left-leaning college students to work with urban non-profits on homelessness issues. Mara completed two summers (one at the Coalition and one at the Community Housing Partnership), and then continued volunteering full-time at the Coalition on Homelessness. After working more than 60-hour weeks for over three years, Mara was finally hired on to staff in the Civil Rights Project.
Many of us remember seeing Mara, camera in hand, scampering around the city looking to catch a bad cop red-handed, illegally harassing homeless people. Any time you saw a homeless person interacting with a cop, Mara was there. Like a miniature bulldog with a tiny voice, she would interrogate the officer while citing the law. Meanwhile, the cop would grow red in the face while this little woman continued, persistent and seemingly sweet. She was universally hated by the police—a badge she wore fearlessly with pride and good humor.
Mara relentlessly documented and fought against abuses of homeless people’s rights for eight years. She coordinated the Civil Rights project, pulling off countless protests as well as electoral campaigns. Eventually, in a characteristic act of integrity, she turned the project over to homeless and formerly homeless people to run.
Mara was also very active in Homes Not Jails. Skilled with a crow bar, many of us have watched with amazement as Mara scaled 14-foot fences, quick as a squirrel, and quickly broke into a building, turning it over to homeless people. On other occasions, she would help organize a protest to draw attention to the fact that while government-owned buildings sat empty, homeless people were needlessly suffering on the streets.
In 2003, Mara, never one to shy away from a challenge, took on the hardest job at the Coalition: bookkeeper. This job entailed stretching scarce dollars as far as they could go, making hard decisions about resource allocation, often assisting people in need, and a myriad of administrative duties too lengthy to detail. It is an important and thankless job, and Mara dove into it without stopping for air.
Mara Raider has demonstrated exceptionally deep commitment to social justice for homeless people. Not in it for the glory, she has always preferred to stay behind the scenes. Quiet and steady, she belongs to a long history of unrecognized woman warriors who have served as the backbone of fights for justice. Non-judgmental by nature, Mara made personal connections with people of all stripes, and was able to recruit and train large numbers of homeless people into the movement.
For the Coalition, Mara served as our moral compass, always reminding us, when we went astray, where our roots and loyalties belonged. She is steadfast and overflowing with integrity. While we will miss her, her contributions to the Coalition have been cemented and will never go away.