Former Charlottesville Homeless Woman Speaks at National Conference

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A former homeless woman from Charlottesville is in the nation's capitol helping guide national policy on ending homelessness.  We first introduced you to Rebeckah Armistead last week.  Wednesday NBC29's Matt Talhelm was with her in Washington and has the story you will see only on NBC29. 

Armistead was homeless for more than 20 years and gave up her kids to foster care while she rebuilt her life.  Now, she's sharing her story with her congressman and people across the country.

She earned a scholarship to the three-day National Conference on Ending Homelessness at the Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center in Washington.  It's a far cry from spending two decades bouncing around from shelter to shelter and living in a car with her four kids.

Armistead said, "Domestic violence is where started at and then the homelessness and then the foster care and then just fighting."

Wednesday morning, she took part in a discussion about helping the homeless population and agencies that help them impact the upcoming November elections.

For Armistead, it has been a whirlwind experience with new opportunities she hopes to bring back to improve the lives of central Virginia's homeless.  "I'm blessed to have been actually able to do this," she said.

Armistead is one of 1,500 people taking part in the conference that covered topics including domestic violence, helping homeless youth, and building affordable housing.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of people sleeping on the streets actually dropped 1 percent during the recession.  They credit that to an infusion of stimulus funds from Washington for housing programs.

Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said, "We're happy that worked, but of course we're not satisfied with that. We really need to keep bringing the number down."

The alliance hopes people like Armistead take the lessons learned from the conference back to their communities.

Armistead said, "What I've learned and what I've already had the knowledge of and my advocating, I want to take that further than just inside the realm of Charlottesville."

Her cause starts on Capitol Hill where Armistead goes one-on-one with 5th District
Congressman Robert Hurt.

"It was just like sitting down at the dinner table talking to your dad or something," she said.

Hurt said, "Her experience with homelessness is something we all need to hear."

She's encouraging the Republican representative to support funding for programs and agencies that help central Virginia's homeless.

"They don't know what is out there and what is available for them to use," Armistead said.  "That's where they're hurting a lot with homelessness."

We talked about how important it is that we prioritize what little revenue we have coming in so we can take into account those who are in most need," Hurt said.

Armistead credits Region Ten in Charlottesville for connecting her with resources to get back on her feet.

"The services are out there.  You just have to be offered the services," she said.  "There are a lot of people who judge you when you say I'm homeless."

But Armistead isn't ashamed any more.   She's earned her GED, is enrolled in community college, and has a roof over her head.

"It's your time to shine, Rebeckah.  It's time for you to rise and spread your wings, and that's what I want to do," she said.

Armistead is returning to Charlottesville with a new purpose.  She plans to travel around the region visiting homeless shelters and sharing the lessons she learned in Washington to inspire others just like her.