Neijan Boyd, a member of the Capital Area Food Bank’s Client Leadership Council, brings her perspectives to the table as someone who has navigated eviction, homelessness, and shelter living.
Neijan and her children — ages one, five, and seven — recently secured housing in Fairfax County, Va. In a conversation with CAFB, she shared her experiences with navigating food- and housing-assistance programs, as well as what she’s gained from involvement in the CLC program.
After graduating from the program next month, Neijan plans to continue using her voice to advocate for herself and others so that everyone can access the tools they need to not just to survive, but thrive.
How did you become interested in the Client Leadership Council?
I like to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves.
What are some things that you have learned in the workshops?
When it comes to food poverty, I looked at the class like this, and I took it maybe a different way from other people…People don’t have food. Okay, that is very much so understandable. Then you go to people like social services, and they [give] you food stamps. And you’re like, ‘Okay, well, I got food stamps, but I don’t have a house. So I’mma get all these food stamps, and what am I going to do with them? How am I supposed to make sure I have a hot meal everyday? Do I have to go to 7/11 and warm up noodles or get a $5 pizza because I don’t have the home to go home to to actually cook food? So I got to eat cold food.’
It’s like, ‘Okay, y’all giving me the food—that’s cool…But…I need more than just that’…They look at it like, ‘You don’t have a job. You don’t have this. Oh, we can’t do this for you. We can give you, like, $200 in food stamps every month, and you just gotta make it work.’ Like, why would you do that—if you’re not going to help them prosper even more knowing, possibly, they could have a disability?…They look at it like, ‘Well, we gave you food.’…But did you help me get an apartment? Did you help me get in a shelter, in a hotel? Did you help me do any of that? No, you didn’t. And I know too many people that have disabilities and are in Fairfax County, in Virginia, that are not getting the help that they need.
How do you hope to carry this momentum forward and continue to advocate?
I know a young lady right now. She was in a situation. She just got out of [it], but I advocated for her as much as I possibly could when it came to talking to social workers, talking to people at shelters to get her where she’s at now…She just moved into a one-bedroom apartment. So, not only was it my voice that help[ed] her, but she put the work in as well to do it. And I will possibly say if it wasn’t for me advocating for her, I don’t think she would be where she’s at right now.
“You gotta fight for what you need and what you want. If you don’t fight for it, you’re not gonna get it.”
– Neijan Boyd, Client Leadership Council member
How about your family? How is your housing situation?
I finally got my apartment. So I’m about to move in…And not only was I [advocating for the friend who was working to secure housing], and I’m in my own situation, but I made sure that I didn’t allow my situation to [override]…what I had to help her do because that was in my heart to do that.
Do you visit any food pantries? How does food assistance help you?
I just went to the…Capital Area Food Bank on Puerto Rico Avenue, and…when I tell you that helped me so much….When those food stamps are gone and you need food and those boxes come, [they] help…All those canned goods go with whatever you got in that [re]frigerator or that freezer. They give you everything that you need to survive [until] the next time you get your food stamps…I also go to one out here called Food for Others…They give you meat, milk—like everything that you need.
What things have you been able to spend money on as a result of having some help with food?
Being able to put more gas in our car because…gas prices are extremely high right now. And also toiletries, like tissues, paper towels, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, stuff like that that you need.
What does food mean to you—as a mom and member of a family?
Survival. Back when I was younger, it was me plus five [siblings], so it was a lot of us. And my mom, she only got but so much in food stamps. And so we had to survive off what we had.
Is there anything specific your family loves to eat?
We love cereal with ice cubes in it. I don’t know why. But if we could have a lot of boxes of cereal and a whole lot of milk, we would be good.
If there was one thing you would want people in the DMV or USA to know about food and housing, what would you say?
The people in these offices—social services, housing—they can help you. They choose not to…You gotta go out there next to get what you need. You can’t give up because once you give up, they take it as, ‘Oh see, she didn’t need it,’ or ‘He doesn’t really need the help anyways because if they did, they would’ve fought a little bit harder’…Me and my kids are just now getting a housing voucher, and my son is seven years old, and I’ve been in a shelter-house program since 2017…You gotta fight for what you need and what you want. If you don’t fight for it, you’re not gonna get it.