Convention Experiences of a Homeless Advocate

With so many college students flocking to D.C. for internships, it is no surprise that organizations choose to have conventions geared toward young adults in D.C. over the summer. In the past month, I had the fantastic opportunity of attending the 2011 College Democrats of America Conference, from June 16-19, and the Center for American Progress’s Campus Progress National Convention on July 6. At the conferences, I learned about ways to take action on progressive causes and publicized National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week to college students.

National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, from November 12-20, 2011, is an NCH-sponsored event that I have been publicizing as part of my internship here at NCH. During the week, groups have the opportunity to coordinate events related to issues of hunger and homelessness such as hosting a Speakers’ Bureau panel, creating a tent city on campus, or lobbying elected officials. This summer, I have reached out to religious groups, community service groups, and college campuses to see if they can involve more groups in hosting their own awareness weeks. To enhance outreach efforts, I talked to many college students at the conferences I attended to encourage them to learn more about the awareness week by signing up to receive an organizing manual. Due to the close ties between democratic/progressive causes and issues related to poverty, students were extremely interested in becoming involved with our awareness week. Furthermore, because many of the democratic/progressive clubs that students are involved in have a low profile on campus or are faced with many apathetic student bodies, I encouraged students to bring awareness weeks to their campuses because of the innovative leadership and outreach experiences the week presents.

In addition to reaching out to students to participate in National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, I attended seemingly countless panels and keynote addresses, including hearing from people such as former President Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and author of Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich. As well as learning about cool projects and ways to take action that I will take back to my college campus, I was able to look at many issues through the lens of the relationship to homelessness. For instance, Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) spoke about how when she was younger, she almost lost her house because she racked up hospital bills that she never would have incurred had her job provided her with healthcare or a high enough wage for her to buy her own coverage. For the conferences as a whole, one of the biggest topics was voting rights. ID laws and other requirements not only negatively affect the homeless, they also restrict the ability of college students to vote. It was so interesting to make the connections and to see how various groups are fighting the new voting laws. I also attend a panel directly related to poverty, with representatives from low-income student groups, Center for American Progress’ poverty reduction program (half in ten), and others. It was inspiring to hear how different organizations tackle the issues of poverty.

I absolutely loved attending the conferences because not only did I learn more about issues that I care about, but I was also able to talk with so many other students about how they are making positive social change and relate their experiences to mine here at NCH.

By Laura Epstein, intern

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