Make the Most of the Pope’s Visit with Your Member of Congress

During Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, he used his public platform to draw attention to the marginalized in our society. That included people experiencing homelessness.

After his historic Congressional address, Pope Francis left the Capitol to have lunch with 300 low income and homeless people at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC. There he remarked, Let me be clear. There is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”

For the media and the public, the Pope’s visit shone a spotlight on populations who are often overlooked. As advocates, how can we do the same? Now that the Pope has brought much needed attention to homelessness, how can we keep the momentum going?

This fall, one way advocates can do that is by encouraging members of Congress to visit homeless programs in their communities. Sites visits are one of the most impactful advocacy strategies. They bridge the gap between policy and the field by allowing members of Congress to see:

  • How your community’s homeless program helps homeless people;
  • The impact the program is having on people and programs in their district;
  • The ways in the program implements evidence-based interventions;
  • The connections between the program’s success and the policy and budget issues that your member of Congress can influence.

Last week Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR), or stopgap funding measure, which will fund federal programs at fiscal year (FY) 2015 levels until Dec. 11.

Soon members will return to their home states or districts over the Columbus Day recess, which will last from Oct. 12 to 16. That will be a great time to engage them, because when they return to DC it will be fresh in their minds as they convene to work out a larger FY 2016 budget deal.

Visit our October 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 them to champion the cause of ending homelessness.

Congress must hear from their constituents that their communities are relying on them to lift sequestration-level spending caps so that homeless assistance programs can be adequately funded. (Members from both sides of the aisle have already stated publicly that the caps are too low.)

Congress must also 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’s 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:

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

The time to arrange site visits is now, as members of Congress will soon be in their districts home and the Pope’s visit is still fresh in their minds.

As we bridge gaps this fall by connecting policymakers to effective programs and solutions, let us remember Pope Francis’ compassionate admonition, which bears repeating: “There is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”