Earlier this month, MCAH Executive Director, Eric Hufnagel, was in Washington, D.C. for the National Conference on Ending Homelessness. During his trip, he and other homelessness advocates from Michigan visited with Michigan’s elected officials and their staff members, here are his thoughts from the visits.
Capitol Hill Day visits. Within the context a high school field trip to Washington, D.C. it seems kind of cool. Within the context of education/advocacy, it takes on a much a heavier and intimidating character — a level of discomfort that comes with traveling into the unknown.
Huh…really?! Well, that may be overstating it a bit but, for most, the idea of sitting down with an elected official to discuss the issue of homelessness (or any issue for that matter) DOES make them uncomfortable.
For many years, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has encouraged and facilitated meetings with members of Congress in conjunction with its annual summer conference. After all, when you have 1,400 people in attendance from around the country, doesn’t it make sense to encourage folks to touch base and share information with their elected officials?
I’ve had the opportunity to Co-Captain the Michigan delegation visits over the past several years, including this year’s Capitol Hill Day.
Making scheduled visits in teams of two or more, folks from Michigan encounter various receptions and reactions, varying widely based on the number of terms in office, committee assignments, personal background, elected official or staff, and political persuasion, etc.
Common “take-aways” include the value of sharing local stories — humanizing the issue and putting it into the context of the district back home. Helping policy makers gain insight into the issue of homelessness is the key to fostering informed public policy.
The folks we met with – elected officials and/or their staff members – typically had an interest in the issue. Quite often, though, there wasn’t a grasp of the scope of the issue or the wide range of precipitating factors, nor an understanding of how the issue of homelessness is being addressed back in their home districts.
It’s incumbent upon all of us, whether as individuals or as representatives of human service providers or other community stakeholders, to know what’s happening on the ground and to share that knowledge with those individuals who have been elected to serve our communities.