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#NHHAW – What Comes Next?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness

What’s next? Building Hunger and Homelessness Awareness beyond November – Deirdre Walsh

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week brings together high schools, colleges, community groups, and faith-based organizations in the common cause to educate their communities about poverty in America. The issues of hunger and homelessness, however, are more than a week’s worth of problems for many Americans. Veterans return from war suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with little support, which too often can lead them to life on the streets. LGBTQ youth are at risk of being rejected by their families and the general public and make up close to half of all unaccompanied homeless youths in America. Women in domestic violence situations are forced to choose between an abusive home or an unstable life without a home. Families are riddled with debt from the lack of housing assistance and affordable healthcare and must decide which bills to pay or buy food for dinner. Poverty has many different faces and the causes of homelessness are just as varied as the people who endure it. The issues of hunger and homelessness cannot be fully understood or addressed in one week. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is just the start of what you and your local community can do year round.

How can the actions you took this November be continued year round? There are so many great ways! Make volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shelter a part of your weekly or monthly routine by asking a friend to commit to it with you. Create a community forum or book club with regular meetings meetings focused on understanding the social issues relating to poverty. Challenge different organizations to try to out-do your events each month. Make a regular date to have dinner with someone who faces food insecurity. Whatever you are comfortable with, we hope you will commit to this cause and remain an active advocate for those living in poverty.

Addressing the goals of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week can and should be more than a week’s affair, however, starting dialogue and open discussion in your community is the first step. When people are talking about the lack of affordable housing, the criminalization of homelessness, and the discrimination against LGBT homeless youths you know that they can see past the stereotypes and understand the realities homelessness. Over 3.5 million men, women and children will go without a place to sleep and even more will be unable to feed and sustain themselves. Students, community groups and local organizations can work year round to assist and provide needed resources and have the capabilities to engage local civic leaders and policy makers to remove obstacles for America’s poor. Hunger and Homelessness may be one week in November, but the lessons and programs started can be a year round initiative for all. Bring poverty, its hardships and its causes, to the forefront of social and political discussions to give everyone a home this year. Resolve to fight poverty!

#NHHAW – Learning to Lobby

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

Learning How to Lobby – Jennifer Warner

You are one of 319,247,005 American citizens. That number grows by, on average, one person every 13 seconds. With such a large pool of people, it’s hard to believe that anything you do or say will affect the laws that govern us all. It seems unlikely that any legislator would listen to you and it is intimidating to consider asking them to. As daunting as it might seem, I have seen first-hand that the American political system is designed for each of us to be able to access and influence elected officials, if we take the right steps

Anything a person does to try to influence the actions of legislators is considered lobbying. You may have a negative connotation of this word; in fact, 61% of Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of lobbyists and 81% believe that lobbyists bribe legislators for votes. However, lobbying simply means advocating for policy decisions that you or your organization would like to see. One group I’ve gotten involved with, called SAVE for All, believes budget decisions should protect low-income and vulnerable people. To encourage this, SAVE members visit the staff of Senators and Representatives who sit on funding committees and have an open dialogue about community needs and funding possibilities. These conversations involve both education about the issue and the exchange of personal opinions. This is direct lobbying: a face-to-face exchange of information and opinion.

However, lobbying doesn’t necessarily mean in-person meetings with on Capitol Hill. You can communicate with your Congressperson wherever you are, through letters, email, and phone calls. To find out how to best contact your Senators and Representatives, look up their websites at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. On their official websites, you can also find the location of their closest district office, which is their office in your local community. When contacting your elected officials, try to pick one or two specific issues that you care about. (For ideas, go to NCH’s “Campaigns” tab!) Research the topic thoroughly and clarify your own stance on the issue. When your write, call, or present to a staff person, be clear and concise with your argument. If you called or sent a letter, ask for a response from the Congressperson, and if you met with a staffer, send a follow up email thanking them for their time.

Your elected officials can only serve your interests if they know what those interests are, so communication is essential. Engaged citizens should tell their local Representatives and Senators what they want, as the primary job of those officials is to represent the interests of their own district or state. Your senators are there to represent each person in your state and your representative works for the 732,203 people in your immediate community. They are your voice among the 319,247,005 in this country—make sure that they are saying things you agree with.

#NHHAW – Solidarity through Experience

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Poverty

Solidarity through Experience: Experiential Learning and its place in Homeless Advocacy – Deirdre Walsh

Tonight will likely be an uncomfortable and cold evening for some of the nation’s most influential business executives.  In 14 cities nationwide, Covenant House will host its fourth Executive Sleep Out. The annual fundraiser brings not only financial resources to those combatting youth homelessness, but also much needed attention to the issues of hunger and homelessness. Executives will join together on behalf of the thousands of people around the country who have no place to call home. This act of sacrifice and attention will raise funds and awareness in order to protect the most innocent and forgotten members of our society.

The National Coalition for Homeless will also call upon people to take the ‘Homeless Challenge or participate in ‘One Night Without a Home‘ events throughout the annual National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Solidarity and understanding develops between participants and their peers without homes. These events then bring about greater public awareness and raise much needed funds for services and care for homeless individuals. Those who live in poverty and who do not have a home deserve the same treatment as the highest paid executives and everyone in between. By working together, both challenge participants and people experiencing homelessness can work to end homelessness.

Major fundraisers and awareness events such as Covenant House’s Sleep Outs and the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Homeless Challenge are part of a rising trend throughout the United States. Their goal is to spread awareness about poverty and its effects on the poorest of American citizens. Through these experimental learning events and projects, awareness for homelessness has a deeper meaning. Homelessness can be easily disregarded by the public if they have no understanding of the harsh realities and ordeals undergone by men, women, and children living on the streets. Sleep outs simulate just a small part of those experiences, but teach the participants that homelessness is more than statistics or stereotypes. Homelessness has many causes, many obstacles, and many faces.

With more and more experimental learning events and fundraisers, the question “do these programs actually work?” often comes to mind. The answer is YES! The place of simulated experiences in homeless advocacy is critical. They bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots by uniting people for one cause: to end homelessness. Statistics and facts about poverty are one-dimensional and easy to disregard. One evening on the streets cannot encompass the entirety of life without a home or financial insecurity, but it can help participants to see beyond the factual side of poverty and see the faces of hunger and homelessness. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an opportunity for people around the country to join together and bring political and social attention to the impacts of mass poverty and homelessness. Sleep outs not only help finance the efforts of nonprofits such as Covenant House, but also bring people together in support of those who are usually forgotten. Solidarity between all Americans, no matter their financial or housing situations, will enable thousands more to resolve to fight poverty!

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