Effective Advocacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Effective advocacy is an essential tool in our efforts to serve the most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the Alliance hosted a webinar to help partners in the field advocate for the resources we all need during this time. Presentation slides and a recording of the discussion can be found on the Alliance’s COVID-19 Webinar Series resource page.

Generally speaking, there are a few basic elements to doing this effectively on the local and state levels, including:

  • Confirming which legislative district includes your organization’s service area
  • Being sure to invite elected representatives to groundbreakings and special events
  • Including elected representatives on the distribution list for your annual report
  • Getting to know the person covering homelessness on your legislator’s staff team
  • Scheduling meetings with key legislators in their district offices at least once a year

These same principles work at all levels of government. The key is to establish a relationship with the people who represent your community in Congress, the State House, and City Hall. While this outreach isn’t labor intensive if done throughout the year, it should be part of your organization’s ongoing workplan rather than left as a special task during budget season.

Success Stories from the Field

Although the coronavirus may have changed how our advocacy looks, communicating with elected officials and key decisionmakers in this time of crisis will prove essential for securing funds in ending homelessness. Two local advocates shared on the webinar their successes in advocating, and provided insight on how other communities can do the same.

Dora Gallo of A Community of Friends (ACOF) described her organization’s coalition work in Los Angeles. ACOF is part of the local Provider Alliance, which includes more than 70 homeless service providers and supportive housing developers. It spans all types of nonprofit homeless organizations – missions and shelters, domestic violence agencies, legal service organizations, nonprofit developers of supportive housing, organizations administering the coordinated entry system, and many other groups assisting homeless adults, families and youth.

Collaboratively, this coalition has won more than $5 billion in new local funding to address homelessness in Los Angeles. The key to this success has been maintaining unity across the homelessness system, recognizing that different types of organizations will prioritize various needs after new money is secured.

“We need to fight for a bigger pie before we even divide the pie,” says Dora. “We have to all agree principally that we need more money,” said Dora. “After we win the campaign, then we agree to figure out where the allocation of funds go.”

Stephen Piasecki of the Supportive Housing Network of New York described Campaign 4 NY/NY, a three-year effort to win 35,000 additional units of supportive housing across New York State. Core elements of this advocacy included weekly events, letter writing, and legislative outreach. Building relationships with legislators was instrumental to the campaign’s success.

“We literally had 10 separate meetings that were regional meetings with state legislators in the state office building, telling them about the campaign and teaching them about supportive housing,” says Steve. “At the end of that education campaign, we had 133 out of 150 state legislators sign on to support our request.” Campaign 4 NY/NY achieved its goal of 35,000 supportive housing units, with 20,000 units being financed by New York State and 15,000 by New York City over 15 years.

Steve and Dora both encourage advocates to not overlook the importance of building a strong, centralized structure for advocacy efforts. Such a structure should have a designated lead entity or committee, and should establish administrative support to accomplish its goals.

Keeping the Momentum

Examples like LA’s Provider Alliance and the Campaign 4 NY/NY show the importance of grassroots collaboration, campaign strategy, and relationship building with legislators. Now more than ever, homeless organizations need to make their voices heard with elected representatives at every level of government.

Check out the Alliance’s COVID-19 Webinar Series resource page for more information about the webinar and stay tuned for future presentations on how to advocate effectively for homelessness funding.