By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Amanda Clark’s experiences with housing instability have led her on a journey to help her community access safe and affordable housing.
Clark, 38, started her role as housing coordinator for the Dominican Center at the beginning of 2022 to help long-term Amani residents learn about available resources and to aid young adults in finding homeownership opportunities.
Born in Chicago, Clark moved to Milwaukee as a toddler and spent her childhood bouncing around the city – moving from home to home for one reason or another.
Moving from place to place
“We were very transient. We never stayed anywhere for more than a year,” she said. “Because we moved a lot, we changed schools a lot. We never had a consistent routine or friends.”
Clark said the primary reason her family moved around so much was because of the living conditions in many of the homes.
“I remember we moved on Thursday night. We’d just moved in, so we didn’t have beds or anything because we threw everything out. And back then you’d have to wait for We Energies to come and hook up your gas and electricity,” she said.
“We had one mattress, and we all shared it. That first night, my mom went out for something. When she came back to me, my sister were on the mattress and we woke up (with) … so many roaches, just all around, walking all over,” she said. “And there were mice. So, my mom decided we weren’t staying there and left. We had to leave everything behind. We didn’t even get to unpack.”
Because of those types of experiences, she said she struggles with maintaining connections, taking ownership of things and finding stability in her adult life. But those struggles fuel her passion for the housing work she does.
“They had a devasting effect on me,” Clark added. “And I know there are kids still living in those types of situations.”
According to Maricha Harris, the executive director of the Dominican Center, Clark’s personal experiences allow her to connect with residents.
“Amanda has an effervescent personality in general,” Harris said. “But when she’s one-on-one with residents, you can see from the way she connects with them to how patient she is that she is a reflection of this community.”
An unconventional journey
Clark says her journey to her roles was nontraditional.
In 2008, she was charged with a felony and incarcerated. Upon her release a year later, she started working a string of warehouse jobs — until her then-girlfriend helped her find a new position.
“I just felt like because I had a felony no one was going to trust me enough to hire me,” she said. “I knew that community work came with like paperwork and people’s information, and I just thought no one would trust me with important information.”
But her wife thought otherwise.
“We’d always talk about our passion for community,” DeShanda Clark said. “And I knew how hard of a worker she was. So when I saw the position, I told her to go for it.”
Clark was accepted into Public Allies Milwaukee’s Class of 2019 and placed at Community Advocates’ Public Policy Institute. She worked on the 53206 Drug-Free Communities Project.
Continuing to evolve
After her stint was up, Community Advocates hired her as the projects coordinator before she moved to the Dominican Center as the youth coordinator and finally to her role as the organization’s housing coordinator.
“I just knew Amanda wanted to do something purposeful,” DeShanda Clark said.
She said Clark is genuine, real and passionate. She loves to see her connect with youths. “It’s like she’s everyone’s cool aunt,” she said.
Clark said she’s learned that you can’t serve young people unless you address their core issues.
“How can I tell a teen not to do drugs when they feel like that’s their only way to escape an unsafe environment or when (they) got the drugs from a friend whose couch they’re sleeping on,” she said.
“I spent so much of my childhood stressed and so much of my adulthood healing from that stress that I don’t want to see any children worrying like that,” she said.