HECUA student and MCH intern, Emma Klingler —There’s something thrilling about seeing the halls of the Senate Office Building teeming with people. Running between rooms during Homeless Day on the Hill, I overheard numerous conversations from people who had just finished speaking with their legislators, or who were discussing an aspect of housing or social services in which they were interested. The hearing for the affordable housing bonding bill was absolutely packed—people sat on the floor and an entire second room that was opened for overflow filled to capacity. In a particularly poignant show of overwhelming support, the author, Representative Hamilton, asked that the people there in support of the bill raise their hands. The sea of arms was a powerful sight.
A substantial turn-out makes a very real difference in cases like this. It is easy for the legislature to become disconnected from the people and services being addressed. The high-level policy decisions and budget balancing can turn issues like supportive services for those in affordable housing into a math problem. But the physical presence of so many passionate individuals right there in the space where the bills are being discussed makes the meaning behind the language suddenly very real.
While the hearing turn-out was incredible to witness, the bread and butter of policy advocacy is the actual meeting with legislators. This year, we were able to get a constituent meeting with almost every legislator, meaning that the majority of people coming from all over the state had the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with their lawmaker and talk about the campaign issues that were their greatest concern.
My own legislators support all of the bills attached to the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless campaigns and both legislators are authors on multiple of the bills. While this meeting may seem unnecessary, it is important for legislators that are leading the charge to have the words of their constituents to share. In my meetings, we had several constituents who were currently experiencing homelessness. Their stories about the hardships of keeping jobs while constantly searching for a place to call home solidified the importance of the funds being requested by giving a name and face to those who will be directly benefitted.
Even the conversations with legislators who staunchly refuse to support the bills can be a chance to raise some questions for them to consider. I spoke to one participant who was the only person in her district to meet with her senator. While she reports that he did not agree to support the bills, she was able to explain how affordable housing directly impacts her hometown through the story of a hometown friend who wants to raise a family there but is having a hard time finding an affordable place to settle down. Personal narratives like these, particularly when it appeals to the regional pride that legislators possess for their districts, can plant the seeds for later growth.
While Day on the Hill is a unique opportunity to amass people in a visual show of strength and interest, involvement in advocacy for housing and social services must remain an ongoing effort. The connections developed at these in-person meetings can serve as the jumping off point for a personal relationship with one’s legislators. Consistent advocacy for issues which deeply impact communities throughout the state allows us as a coalition to continue pushing forward these crucial bills.
Emma Klingler, HECUA intern for MCH