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Citizen Engagement: Educating City Council About Solutions to Homelessness

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Speakers' Bureau

On June 24, Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau held a first-of-its-kind speaking engagement by Bureau members who shared their perspectives and experiences of homelessness with members of the City Council, area service providers, and other invited guests (including Michael Stoops and Brian Parks of the National Coalition for the Homeless).

Earlier this year, many members of the Bureau were involved in organizing efforts to stop the city from forcibly removing a community from an encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway in downtown Baltimore. While advocates were not able to stop the City from closing down the encampment, they successfully drew attention to the injustice of closing down an encampment without providing any place for campers to go. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke called a hearing to revisit commitments five years in to the city’s “Journey Home” 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Comments made at the hearing indicated misconceptions about the causes and experience of homelessness.  A University of Maryland Social Work Intern who was involved in the organizing efforts around the encampment began reaching out to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke about organizing discussion with members of the Speakers’ Bureau.

The Baltimore Speakers' Bureau at a recent event.

The Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau at a recent event.

Many emails and several months later, the Speakers’ Bureau finally set a date to meet with City Council in late June and dove into preparing for this very important speaking engagement.  The Bureau aimed to keep the discussion focused on solutions and opportunities for collaboration and hoped that City Council members would walk away with an understanding that while there are a myriad of individual circumstances that contribute to a person losing their home, underlying causes of homelessness all relate to poverty, lack of affordable housing and insufficient health care.

Members outlined goals for the meeting through an agenda that included an introduction on the common misconceptions and stereotypes held about people experiencing homelessness, personal stories from Speakers Bob Jankowiack, Bonnie Lane, and Damien Haussling, as well as a roundtable discussion on pressing issues facing the homeless community. Faces of Homelessness Speaker Tony Simmons who moderated the presentation challenged the audience to think about how themes emerging from Speakers’ stories can point us toward solutions.

The Baltimore Bureau was thrilled by the level of engagement of Council Members during the discussion. Speakers’ Bureau members and advocates from the homeless community were also present to weigh in on the roundtable discussion which focused on changing perspectives of homelessness and an upcoming shelter transition facing the community.

What made this event so important was that for the first time, the real experts on homelessness—those with lived experience—led elected officials and leaders of the service provider community in a discussion on the state of homelessness in Baltimore.  Speakers demonstrated the importance of partnering with individuals that have experienced homelessness in the struggle to end it.

The event captured the essence of a favorite poem of mine by Julia Dinsmore, a poet and activist for social justice from Minneapolis (my hometown):

Take another look, don’t go away. For I am not the problem, but the solution. And… my name is not ‘Those People.’

By Vanessa Borotz
NCH AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer

Read more about what the Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau is up to: http://citypaper.com/arts/stage/i-am-i-said-1.1517758

NCH Earns Glowing Congressional Recognitions on its 30th Anniversary

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Hate Crimes, Policy Advocacy

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) recently presented congressional recognitions congratulating the National Coalition for the Homeless on its 30th Anniversary, commending NCH for its accomplishments in the struggle to end homelessness.

Senate Recognition

NCH began with activists’ pursuit of the right of people experiencing homelessness to have shelter and affordable housing, and has developed into an advocacy organization at the forefront of implementing policies to prevent and end homelessness. Our 30th Anniversary is a period of reflection, a time to honor the past and build hope for the future through effective and impactful education, advocacy, programs and service.

NCH inspired descriptions from Sen. Cardin like “an outstanding organization,” and one that commits to “selfless striving to end homelessness.”  These remarks welcome a glance at actions that helped create this legacy, like ensuring that those who have experienced homelessness remain an integral part of advocacy efforts, especially through the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau.  Rep. Johnson acknowledged that NCH “has made tremendous gains since its inception,” which keys into our successes in awareness, philanthropy, advocacy and service related to homelessness over its thirty-year history.  Sen. Cardin  pointed to NCH’s shaping of housing policy for the economically deprived, and how it “spearheaded advocacy for the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,” which remains a substantial move toward preserving the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness.

Congressional Recognition

This recognition highlights not only the organization’s tremendous bounds over its three-decade history, but also a needed positive relationship between NCH and members of Congress.  Both Rep. Johnson and Sen. Cardin realize the importance of introducing policies to end homelessness and deserve their own praise for efforts that demonstrate legal strides towards ending homelessness.

Rep. Johnson was a co-founder and currently co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, and recently conducted a congressional awareness briefing on family homelessness in America.  She also introduced the Violence Against the Homeless Accountability Act of 2013, which pushes for the Department of Justice to include uniform crime stats concerning hate crimes against homeless individuals.

Sen. Cardin has also expressed support for protecting people experiencing homelessness from violence, introducing a bill in the previous session of Congress to quantify hate crimes against people experiencing homelessness (Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act), making an effort to include NCH’s own documentation of hate crimes against the homeless, and conducting the first ever Senate hearing on violence against the homeless.  Both Sen. Cardin and Rep. Johnson have headed a congressional push to end homelessness, which includes providing homeless veterans with homes, and revitalizing housing in and bringing jobs to disenfranchised neighborhoods.

These initiatives mark a partnership between NCH and Congressional members that has been critical in the coalition’s epoch of successful advocacy.  Congress’s willingness to pursue valued policies gives organizations like NCH needed allies, voices that offer legislative support to the priorities that will bring an end to homelessness.  In accepting deserved praise on its 30th Anniversary for years of accomplishments on the path toward ending homelessness like promoting the Bring America Home Act, NCH equally acknowledges and thanks Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) for their efforts.

Read Senator Cardin and Representative Johnson‘s full recognition declarations.

Post by Keith Meyer, NCH Awareness & Advocacy Fellow, Rising Junior at Allegheny College

Congressional caucus looks for solutions

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Policy Advocacy

Today the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and Senator Patty Murray held a briefing on Homelessness in America: Experiences & Solutions in the 113th Congress.  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and staffers from the offices of Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Alcee Hastings kicked off the event with remarks stating the Congresspersons’ commitment to spreading awareness of homelessness among current Congressional members.  The hearing room in the new Capitol Visitors Center was filled to capacity with interested Congressional staffers and advocates!

photo 3Carmela DeCandia, Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness, started off the speakers by giving statistics on family and child homelessness.  Those of us who work in homeless advocacy are familiar with this numbers, but they are still quite startling: around 1.6 million children will experience homelessness this year – for the first year ever the Department of Education found more than a million students did not have stable housing!  The impact that this lack of stable housing has on children is also quite startling – 50% of children who experience homelessness will also experience depression or anxiety, and will have below average test scores.

The next speaker to share his testimony was Devin Johnson, a High School student from Prince George’s County in Maryland.  Devin related his experience with homelessness, which started when both of his parents were laid off from jobs at a restaurant chain.  Over the years, Devin lived with family members, in shelters and outdoors in tents, moving constantly with his family and having to change schools often.  He related many of the challenges homeless families and children often face, losing all belongings, not getting along with family, and having difficulty dealing with school.  Devin’s testimony was critical in showing the audience the face of the human struggle of homelessness, but also how the human spirit can persevere through obstacles.  As he put it, “It feels so good to say you finally made it after it’s been a hard long road…anything is possible.”

Here is a shot after the hearing with NCH Staff Michael Stoops, Neil Donovan, and Megan Hustings, taken by Je’Lissa Fowler

Here is a shot after the hearing with NCH Staff Michael Stoops, Neil Donovan, and Megan Hustings, taken by Je’Lissa Fowler

Also providing some personal testimony, but from an advocate’s perspective, was Brian Carome, the Executive Director of Street Sense, Washington, DC’s Street Newspaper.  Mr. Carome shared his deep personal outrage that homelessness has become an accepted as a part of our daily existence.  Many of us who were born in the 1970’s or later have never known a time without homelessness.  But this current epoch of homelessness was not always the norm, federal housing and welfare programs did at one time succeed in creating a stable home environment for most Americans.  Brian stated that homelessness not only wreaks havoc on the American Family, but that it also greatly decreases a person’s life expectancy.  He became choked up when remembering a friend who died while homeless, at the age of 37, a death that could have been prevented with greater access to housing and healthcare.

Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty rounded out the panel of speakers by bringing the previous testimony to bear on current policy issues.  She declared, “homelessness is not a disease…we know how to end it!”  Maria described how the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides educational supports for children and families experiencing homelessness, but not all local programs have the resources to meet needs.  She applauded the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program from the Recovery Act of 2009 as housing over one million families, though this short term program is now over.  Maria stressed that there is too little funding for the solutions that are working across the country, and that the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of making lasting housing solutions.

At the beginning of the briefing, Sarah Bolton, Senior Policy and Budget Advisor to Senator Patty Murray pointed out that the elephant in the room was sequestration, and its impact on Federal programs.  Sequestration has already caused decreased funding for housing vouchers, and as it was put in the briefing, the cutting of funding for housing vouchers is one of the most effectively ways to drastically increase family homelessness.  All of the testimony given at the briefing sends a strong message to Congress: start doing more to help house American families!

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