By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
Just a day before speaking to Anne Rios, executive director and managing attorney of Think Dignity, she was sitting on a panel alongside other experts getting ready to interview City Council candidates on how they plan to address homelessness in San Diego.
“It was enlightening to hear from the different candidates,” Rios said. “I’m disappointed that more candidates did not take the opportunity to join us, we invited eight and only three decided to show up, but I think that even in itself is telling of who is prioritizing the issue of homelessness and sees it as something that needs to be discussed.”
To say that Rios is passionate about this issue would be an understatement, her life and career has been entirely dedicated to working in the public sector and advocating for the most vulnerable members of society.
As the executive director of Think Dignity, a nonprofit that provides programs to homeless individuals in San Diego County with the mission of advancing basic dignity, Rios oversees the agency and the different programs such as a transitional storage center, mobile showers, and more. She also manages the legal department for the nonprofit.
While Think Dignity’s mission aligns with Rios’ personal beliefs, she also brings a perspective to the organization that she developed from advocating for social justice issues early on in her life.
Born and raised in southeast San Diego, Rios learned what it meant to grow up in a community that was “vibrant and diverse,” yet underrepresented and neglected by the city. Her family decided to bus her out for school at an early age but she attended middle school back in the area.
It was then that Rios became aware of the issues that were affecting people in her community in a way that she had not when attending school away from the neighborhood. At the age of 14, Rios organized her first walkout at Gompers Preparatory Academy to protest Proposition 187, which proved to be discriminatory against undocumented immigrants from using public services in California.
Rios said that seeing how people who looked like her, shared her background, culture and community were being treated locally, statewide and nationally, changed her perspective.
“That was just kind of the very first initial moment where I thought this is what I’m going to do forever, I’m always going to try to engage and motivate my community to want more and to fight against any kind of injustice that there is,” Rios shared.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Rios went on to attend law school at California Western School of Law. Rios knew that although she wanted to pursue her law degree, she was more interested in continuing to help those that often lack representation rather than make money.
While working as the managing attorney for Center for Community Solutions, a nonprofit agency that provides services to survivors of sexual violence, Rios became aware with the intersectionality of violence and homelessness.
“I was realizing is that for many folks who had experienced trauma, whether it be domestic violence, there were so many instances where they were at risk for homelessness,” Rios said.
She began to look into that intersectionality and it was then that she found Think Dignity, then known as Girls Think Tank. She was hired on in 2016 and has been with the nonprofit ever since.
“I approach homelessness through a social justice lens, I think homelessness is a result of systemic failures, whether it be the criminal justice system, the school to prison pipeline, wage inequality, violence all of these different parts of the puzzle end up making up the picture that we now see as homelessness,” Rios said.
Rios shared that she is exactly where she envisioned herself and although it sometimes feels overwhelming and like she’s not “making a dent,” she hopes to constantly uphold the mission of Think Dignity.
“Just because someone is homeless that shouldn’t be a dehumanizing event for them,” Rios said.