Advocacy and Housing

Blog Post by Jesica Vail, Program Manager of the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness

Yesterday I joined a panel conversation to speak to social work students about the role of advocacy in fighting against homelessness and for affordable housing. There was a lot of great conversation with these future leaders; it is uplifting to see so many people committed to making sure all people have a safe, stable place to live! Some of the key takeaways from the conversation were:

1) Advocacy is important because if we don’t fight for what is needed, our work is only that of a Band-Aid. If we want our efforts to end homelessness to be successful, we must fight for the resources to move that work ahead and significantly reduce the number of people who are experiencing homelessness. Otherwise, our work is just treading water, managing homelessness, and serves only to ease the guilt of a society that is unburdened with the suffering of its poorest members.

2) Do your homework before you start! In Grand Rapids, many groups have taken up the cause of affordable housing. The beginning stages are full of energy and stories to be shared. As these groups move ahead, they run into the same barriers as the groups before them: state laws prohibiting local zoning solutions, market forces, issues between jurisdictions. Each time a group starts from scratch, precious time, energy, and passion are wasted. Join forces with those already doing the work and your efforts can go further.

3) Think bigger. This one is for all the social service workers out there. We are often trained that advocacy means that we do all we can for the one person sitting in front of us at the moment. But in housing there are so many people in need, only 15% of those eligible might get financial assistance. If you cut corners to secure a resource for your client, you are cutting in front of all the other people in need, whose situations may be even more dire than the person you are trying to help. Think about how you can advocate for your client in ways that won’t hurt others in need; then do more advocacy for the housing system so fewer people are left with nothing.

Ready to do something? Over the next six weeks, Congress will be working to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2018. This is an important time to ensure that our elected leaders invest in proven, evidence-based solutions to homelessness.

See what you can do to help make that happen.