This week was an exciting one for housing and homelessness advocacy!
Last Saturday, 80 people took part in the Coalition’s Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops in Seattle and Bellevue. We had an amazingly diverse group of participants, including many people who had volunteered for the One Night Count. Among those who came were social workers; two doctors from the local VA; a member of the Redmond Human Services Commission; a nurse from the Harborview Women and Children’s Clinic; a Weyerhaueser manager; retirees; teenagers; people from local churches; people who are currently homeless; and people who were once homeless. Everyone had a simple and powerful idea in common: that it is unacceptable to allow more than 2,736 people to struggle to survive outside in our community.
Our starting point for each workshop is, of course, a summary of the One Night Count. The point of the Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops is to make sure that the 2,736 men, women and children who were counted outside on a cold, wet night a few weeks ago inspire us to take action to make things better. We have to go beyond the One Night Count, and make the results more than just a number. We have to advocate for affordable housing and vital services so that everyone can have the the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.
Two great presenters helped explain several key legislative proposals currently being considered in the State Legislature that will help prevent and end homelessness. Ben Miksch from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance spoke about the need to reform the state’s revenue system as the foundation for allowing positive investments in housing, services, education, and other important priorities. Ben also highlighted adding $175 million to the Housing Trust Fund, and maintaining and strengthening the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program. Stina Janssen, an organizer with the Tenants Union, explained why it is so important that legislators pass the Fair Tenant Screening Act (HB1529/SB5568).
Once we had a grasp on these legislative priorities, Nancy Amidei began her famous and lively presentation describing how EVERYONE can be an advocate! She gave the workshop participants several tips on being effective advocates:
- Sign up for a good Advocacy Alert list.
- Contact your legislators often ~ they want to hear from you! (If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can look them up on the Washington State Legislature website.)
- Bring the legislative hotline phone number (1-800-562-6000) to a board meeting, a staff meeting, or a community gathering, and invite everyone to call legislators about a current issue.
Two Legislative Aides came to the workshops to help Nancy demonstrate that we shouldn’t be intimidated when contacting our legislators. Samantha Kersul works with Senator David Frockt (46th district), and Marilyn Pedersen works with Representative Ross Hunter (48th district). Both Samantha and Marilyn are very experienced and knowledgeable about policy and legislative processes. They encouraged us to communicate about the issues that matter, and helped us see how easy it is to call or visit a legislator’s office and have a real conversation with the staff people who sit at the front desk.
Our workshops ended with 80 enthusiastic and well-trained advocates ready to put their skills into practice! I believe these workshops are important because they both empower and inspire advocacy. Participants came up to me afterwards to tell me which issue they were going to call their legislator about or which issue they were going to focus on when they went to Olympia. Nancy Amidei asked us if we each knew 10 people with access to phones. She pointed out that “If each of you asked just five friends to call or e-mail their legislators, that would be over 400 calls about housing and homelessness issues!”
Our exciting week of advocacy continued last Monday, when Coalition members and allies headed to Olympia for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day, hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. We were in great company, with more than 600 people from around the state. This was the biggest Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day ever. People from 43 of the 49 legislative districts in Olympia came in person to speak with their elected officials. Fellow Coalition intern, Katharine, and I went to the offices of Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to deliver hundreds of postcards about our legislative priorities signed by One Night Count volunteers and Coalition members. We also handed letters and examples of these postcards to the staff of every single King County legislator.
Our combined voices this week showed our legislators that many housing and homelessness advocates are active, informed, and paying attention to the votes being taken in Olympia. I hope they understand that they cannot solve our budget crisis by cutting programs that are lifelines for many of Washington’s citizens.