Oakland, California, June 6, 2017 - In 1996, Fredricka Robinson, an HIV-positive transgender woman, was living in Marin County, where she enjoyed watching the sun rise from her third-floor window. “It was beautiful, like a picture Vincent Van Gogh painted,” she said. Unfortunately, her view was from San Quentin State Prison.
Convicted of forgery, and inside for a second parole violation, Fredricka was feeling alone, depressed and suicidal. She says prayer, exercise and journal writing helped her survive. Now 54, she is an AIDS activist and affordable housing advocate living in Cathedral Gardens, an EAH Housing community in Oakland, Calif.
“If prison is going to be my life, I don’t want to live anymore,” Fredricka recalls thinking. She prayed to God for another chance: “If you can, help me avoid disaster before it happens so I don’t end up back here; that would be the answer to my prayer.”
After leaving prison, Fredricka completed her parole in San Mateo County. While living there she became the first person in her family to go to college, receiving a BA in psychology from San Francisco State University.
She was also determined to help HIV-positive people, including those formerly incarcerated. After moving to Alameda County in 2000, she served nine years on an advisory board — the Collaborative Community Planning Council — that helps Alameda and Contra Costa counties spend federal dollars to maintain a safety net for people who are HIV positive or have AIDS.
As Cathedral Gardens neared completion in 2012, Fredricka was one of the 5,000 who applied to live there. She was grateful to be offered one of its seven Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) units. She now leads the community’s resident advisory committee. “EAH is doing something great with affordable housing, something that needs to be done across the country,” she said.
As an affordable housing advocate, Fredricka draws on two decades of personal experience with housing insecurity, including stays in relatives’ homes, couch surfing with friends and living four years in a single-room-occupancy hotel.
Last year, Fredricka spent several months helping to pass ballot measure A1, Alameda County’s $580 million affordable housing bond initiative. Her team visited low-income renters across Oakland to ask for their votes. In April, she and fellow A1 advocates received a Community Heroes of the Year Award from the California Reinvestment Coalition, an organization supporting affordable housing for low-income families.
Fredricka recently completed the East Bay Housing Organizations’ leadership training program for affordable housing advocates. In April, EBHO invited her to attend the National Low-Income Housing Coalition conference in Washington D.C. to talk about helping to pass measure A1.
“I’m not sitting here taking for granted that I’ve got mine and I don’t have to give a damn about anybody else,” said Fredricka. “That’s why I’m giving back. I’m representing the people of this complex. I’m also expanding my knowledge of policy and where I can take my next steps for affordable housing for other people.”