Changing Directions: A Conversation with Paul Bernard

Paul Bernard was in grad school when he took a sharp turn from international economics. He walked out of the federal reserve building in D.C., where he was working at the time, and really noticed those experiencing homelessness around him. Paul tells us about that pivotal moment, what his career journey has been like, and why he supports Lotus Campaign by serving as a member of the Board of Directors.  

1.     Tell us about your current role and how you landed there.

I lead a nonprofit, Affordable Homes & Communities (AHC), that owns, operates, and develops affordable housing in the D.C., Virginia, and Maryland region. It’s been around for almost 50 years and has a significant regional presence when it comes to affordable housing production. In addition to the physical bricks and mortar, we also provide services tailored to support residents who are trying to leverage housing as a foundation to move forward. I am here in part because of a desire to serve marginalized populations as well as a desire to promote systems change; focusing especially on those systems that lean toward exclusion. We are attempting to change a system and use affordable housing as an instrument to provide hope, voice, and empowerment.  

2.     Why did you join Lotus Campaign’s Board of Directors?

I came to the board with a heart for homelessness issues. In graduate school, I refocused my education from international finance to issues around domestic economic development. I have been in and around this issue for a very long period of time. What I find compelling about Lotus is that it applies an “out of the box” private sector solution as a key tool to tackle homelessness. In doing so, it expands partnership possibilities beyond just those with a social or moral obligation.  

3.     Tell me a little about that turning point in your career from international issues to domestic ones.

I worked for the Federal Reserve Board in the early 80’s. One evening walking out of my D.C. office, I paused and really noticed people who were experiencing homelessness. It was the first time I really “saw.”  This began a journey of questions around systems and what forced individuals into homelessness. I immediately went home, tore up my letters of intent for graduate school that largely focused on international economics, and refocused.  

4.     What frustrates you most about homelessness in America?

The biggest surprise for me, always, is the lack of humanity. As I spend time on the streets with people experiencing homelessness – not only do they appear to be ignored emotionally and socially, but we pushed them further out. We treated them as less than.  Homelessness is a very isolating and lonely thing to experience. And it is painful to witness.  

5.     What’s one thing few people really know about you?

I was once an aspiring actor.  

6.     Wow! What kind of acting were you into?  

Shakespearean theatre – stage.  

7.     One book everyone should read?

“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.” It’s about a brilliant African American young man who left Newark for the Ivy League. Despite his exceptional academic success at Yale, the weight and trauma of his past pulled him into self-destructive directions.

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