Here’s a Way You Can Help End Homelessness this Month

This July, more than 275 advocates swarmed Capitol Hill during the Alliance’s Capitol Hill Day event to tell Congress about the excellent work federally funded homeless assistance programs are doing in their communities and how Congress can better support them.

Congress is now on recess, so the place for advocates to find members is no longer the Hill; it’s their home states and districts. If you participated in Capitol Hill Day, it’s time to extend the conversation with your member of Congress and show them your program. If you missed out, it’s time to build a relationship.

Members will be in their home states or districts until Labor Day, September 7. (House representatives will be home again from September 21 to 25 for the Yom Kippur holiday, and both chambers will be home for the Columbus Day recess from October 12 to 16.) During these times, advocates have the chance to invite them to visit your homeless program or set up a meeting.

Of course, we’re here to help! Visit our August 2015 Site Visit Campaign webpage for all the materials you will need, including a sample work plan, checklist, and templates that will guide you through the process of planning an effective site-visit or meeting that will inspire your member of Congress to champion the cause of ending homelessness.

Here is the specific “ask” that we’re advising advocates like you to convey during your site visit or meeting: “Please communicate the message to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees that providing the following funding levels in the final FY 2016 funding legislation is a high priority:

  1. $2.480 billion for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in FY 2016, including $40 million for homeless youth initiatives.
  2. Sufficient funding to renew all existing Housing Choice Vouchers and an additional $512 million to restore the 67,000 vouchers lost to sequestration.

It’s a crucial time for members of Congress to see the value of homeless programs in their jurisdictions.

Due to the current, sequestration-level budget caps and congressional gridlock, the fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal funding process has stalled. Members from both sides of the aisle have publicly stated that the caps are too low to pass spending bills. (See this Advocacy Update for more information on how you can get involved with the national effort to increase these caps!)

So we expect Congress to pass a stopgap funding measure (called a “continuing resolution”) to temporarily fund the federal government past the end of the fiscal year while they hash out a larger budget deal.

In advance of negotiations over this budget deal, members of Congress must hear from their constituents that their communities are relying on Congress to lift the spending caps so that homeless assistance programs will be adequately funded. Congress also needs to hear that, should they reach a deal to lift the caps, diverting funds to homeless programs in the final FY 2016 funding bill must be a priority.

Here are some tips that may come in handy during your preparation for a site visit or meeting:

  • Consider the best format for a site visit, taking into account the members’ schedule and whether you have the capacity to plan a program or media effort in addition to the tour of the program. For meetings, it is important to work through the agenda ahead of time to ensure the meeting will flow smoothly and the message is as cohesive as possible.
  • Involve the right stakeholders! Involving a diverse group of local partners, board members, local officials, and others who are fully on board with your agenda in the planning process will increase the likelihood that your member of Congress will accept your invitation for a site visit or meeting. (Share this Advocacy Update with colleagues to encourage them to get involved in planning these events)! At the visit itself, strive for diversity but remember that too large of a group can take away from the focus of the visit. A planning call or meeting with participating stakeholders in advance of the visit can help ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Focus on one to two policy issues! This August, we recommend focusing on the need to lift spending caps in order to fund McKinney at $2.480 billion, including homeless youth initiatives, and restore Housing Choice Vouchers lost to sequestration (see above for specifics).
  • Know Your Audience! Do your research before the meeting to find out a member’s political leanings, priorities, and history of supporting homeless assistance programs. During the visit or meeting, use this information to tailor your messaging for maximum impact. Remember to draw clear connections between essential program operations that reduce homelessness in your community and funding for McKinney or Housing Choice Vouchers. Demonstrate that increased funding will mean that fewer people will be homeless, while cuts to funding will mean that more people will be homeless.
  • Sustain the Relationship! Reach out to thank your member for participating in the site visit or meeting. Reiterate your ask, answer any outstanding questions, and summarize any commitments they made during the meeting. Providing regular updates and following up with congressional offices is very important for relationship-building.

Site visits are often cited as one of the most effective forms of advocacy, and our mission of ending homelessness is too important not to take advantage of Congress being home for the August recess. Securing the increases we’re asking for would go a long way toward helping us end homelessness for people with disabilities, families, and youth. It won’t be easy, but if members of Congress are inspired to champion our priorities, it is certainly possible.

If any questions should arise while you are planning your site visit or meeting, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my colleague Jaime Colman. We can’t wait to hear about how your Members of Congress respond to your site visits and meetings!