Voices from the Frontlines: Racial Equity Leaders

Ardy Akhzari and Maurice Harge. Harge, who has lived experience of homelessness, was interviewed as part of the committee’s effort to create a racial equity action plan.

The Sacramento Continuum of Care’s Racial Equity Committee is working to create an equitable, accountable, and transparent homelessness system that catalyzes structural change both inside and outside of our current sphere of influence. This committee – comprised primarily of Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color – is tasked with creating a racial equity action plan that will guide the decision-making of the CoC.

Ardy Akhzari is the co-chair of the Racial Equity Committee. In his role, he’s conducted interviews with Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) to learn about their experiences with homelessness, gathered information from providers through forums, attended focused trainings and led conversations about equity. 

Akhzari is the founder and CEO of Packs for Cold Backs, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that provides essential survival supplies and rehabilitation services to homeless communities in California, Arizona, and Washington. As a local leader, Akhzari is passionate about social justice, racial equity, mental health, and creating an equitable future for the Sacramento region.

Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) explored his motivation for serving on this committee and his hopes for how this work will impact the community. 

What motivated you to join the REQC? 

My desire to join and serve as the co-chair of the Racial Equity Committee stems from years of serving the unhoused community in Sacramento through my nonprofit Packs for Cold Backs Inc. Hearing the personal stories from BIPOC pertaining to housing discrimination, unequal access to services, and racial injustices inspired me to step up as a leader to help champion this committee.

In addition to the personal stories shared over the years, seeing the undeniable data showing the racial inequity experienced by our BIPOC population fortified my call to action to help the Sacramento CoC develop a plan to create an equitable future for the unhoused community through the inception and progress of the racial equity committee. As a first-generation immigrant, a man of color, and someone who has personally experienced discrimination, I am driven to innovate and invoke change in our community. Through policy reform, education, advising, and training policy advisors in the region, we look forward to having Sacramento adopt the work of this committee. 

What have you learned in your role on the committee? 

This committee has afforded me the opportunity to learn so much. By creating a safe space for open and honest communication, I have learned copious amounts of information from my fellow committee members through their personal experiences and expertise. In addition to the collaboration of our exceptional team, I have gained further insight through our Racial Equity Training sessions, Stakeholder Forum guest speakers, and through the development and implementation of our racial equity interviews with members of the BIPOC population. These interviews provide invaluable data that will be used to formulate a plan to tackle many of the issues we have observed that pertain to race and discrimination within the homeless services system in Sacramento County.

What are some of your hopes for what will come out of the committees’ work? 

As we work toward completing our action plan to be presented to the CoC, I hope that the work of this committee will assist in identifying and addressing potential solutions to ensure discrimination does not play a role in our homeless services system in Sacramento. Key to this success, we must prioritize implementing a racial equity lens to all aspects of the work of the CoC to ensure racial equity is at the forefront of all of the work being done by the board.