Using Advocacy to End Homelessness
Post on 06-Apr-2016
DESCRIPTIONGentrification Manifesto Project MASJ
Using Advocacy to
End Homelessness: State Advocacy Guide
Lisa Stand, Senior Analyst
Edward SanFilippo, Policy Fellow
The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a non-
partisan, mission-driven nonprofit organization
committed to preventing and ending homelessness in
the United States. The Alliance is a leading voice on
the issue of homelessness. The Alliance analyzes
policy and develops pragmatic, cost-effective policy
solutions. The Alliance works collaboratively with the
public, private, and nonprofit sectors to build state
and local capacity, leading to stronger programs and
policies that help communities achieve their goal of
ending homelessness. We provide data and research
to policymakers and elected officials in order to
inform policy debates and educate the public and
opinion leaders nationwide.
Copyright 2013. The National Alliance to End Homelessness.
People committed to ending homelessness in their communities know that, alongside familiar federal priorities like funding for HUDs McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, state policies and programs are vital to the work they do. However, engaging effectively in state policymaking can be a challenge, and advocacy success takes planning and organization. This State Advocacy Guide is designed to simplify advocacy at the state level and to provide you with tools you can use to make preventing and ending homelessness a state priority. Through advocacy, you can work with state partners to bring about the changes needed to end homelessness. The Guide is a companion and supplement to Using Advocacy to End Homelessness: A Toolkit for Understanding and Conducting Advocacy, also published by the Alliance. The Guide will add to your understanding of state advocacy and give you tools to get results in your state capital whether from the legislature, commissions, or administrative offices. It is expected that most readers will draw on information and tools from both the Toolkit and the Guide, skimming through chapters to see what information is available and then utilizing specific sections as appropriate. Readers of the Guide should turn to the Toolkit1 to learn more on topics such as:
Rules for Nonprofit Lobbying;
Building Effective Coalitions;
Developing Relationships with Government Officials; and
Conducting Successful Meetings.
Why Does State Policy Matter in Plans to End Homelessness?
Homeless assistance and housing solutions in your community likely rely on federal resources as a foundation. However, state resources and state policy priorities can also be critical. Besides funding programs directly, state budgets and policies can powerfully drive how federal programs are accessed and implemented in communities. State-level decisions on a range of matters affect the capacity of your community to prevent and end homelessness. 1 Using Advocacy to End Homelessness: A Toolkit for Understanding and Conducting Advocacy can be found on
the Alliance website. Visit www.endhomelessness.org/library.
Examples of state policies that make a difference: Medicaid coverage and benefits; resources to support people with mental illness and substance use problems; tax benefits to build housing for people with disabilities and extremely low incomes; and family services that promote rapid re-housing and family unification to end a homeless episode.
At a basic level, advocacy is the active support of an idea or cause. Generally, advocacy takes a wide array of forms, from basic education about the importance of an issue to direct lobbying where you ask a policymaker to take a specific action. So too the potential targets of your state advocacy efforts are also wide-ranging. State elected leaders, appointed officials, and influential stakeholders can all be focal points on key state policy. How you reach them, and when, are questions for advocacy planning a topic covered in the next section. If you have any questions about advocacy or the information contained in the toolkit, please do not hesitate to contact the Alliance. Staff members are available to assist you every step of the way as you strategize your advocacy efforts.
As someone who is involved in the homelessness assistance world, you are a critical part of advocacy efforts to secure new and increased resources for ending homelessness. If you work in this field on a daily basis, you are well aware of the challenges that your community is facing and what it could do with additional resources or new or improved programs. It is up to you to communicate those needs to policymakers. They rely on constituents to understand which issues represent a priority for their community.
Developing a State Advocacy Plan
Two key elements of your state advocacy efforts are developing an advocacy strategy and staying on target with your priorities. With your demanding work helping to end homelessness, you may find that your state advocacy efforts are limited to speaking up at the last minute as important issues arise. As a result, you miss opportunities to build strong, long-term relationships with state elected officials. Having your own set of priorities, great and small, matters a great deal. It is important to remember that the most valuable short-term successes are those that move your agenda toward its longer-term goals. Planning helps keep your efforts on track for the future. Following the steps below will help you plan effectively to meet long-term goals with measurable progress and short-term success along the way.
1. Build Relationships As You Go Whether you work in a coalition with others or not, successful advocacy depends upon establishing strong relationships with your local representatives and top administrative and legislative leaders. When they trust you and know that you are a credible and reliable partner, they will be more likely to respond positively to your advocacy requests. Developing and maintaining these relationships takes time and effort. In many states, there are term limits and other reasons for turnover in key positions. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider relationship-building as an ongoing element of your plan.
2. Include Policymakers Closest to Home Communicate with your local elected officials, even if they do not sit on key committees and even if they have not made ending homelessness a priority. They are nevertheless most interested in what their own constituents have to say. If constituents do not tell them why it is important to make ending homelessness a state priority, policymakers may never know they need to do so. Just as it is their job to listen to you, it is your job to tell them what your community needs. And remember todays state senator may be tomorrows U.S. Congresswoman.
3. Work from a Menu of Objectives Advocacy strategy can have more than one approach, depending on the audiences you most need to reach. You might be planning a lengthy campaign, e.g., a drive to end chronic homelessness in 5 years. To meet this goal, you need to reach the broad public, in your locale or across the state, as well as policymakers. Or you may have a single policy request in a given year, such as increased housing assistance for homeless youth.
The benefit to setting a big goalsuch as ending homelessness in 5 yearsis that it helps to energize supporters in the field of homeless assistance, as well as community partners and the public at large. By explaining the long-term vision for your advocacy activities, you increase your networks desire to participate in the movement as well as an understanding of how the actions they take now can help to shape long-term change. Big goals are helpful to steer long-term planning and generate support. Meanwhile, concrete, immediate advocacy requests are best when working directly in the policymaking process. These requests are your short-term objectives. Your direct appeals to elected officials to take action are more likely to be successful if they focus on pragmatic requests that are realistically achievable in the immediate future. This way, policymakers are more likely to view your organization as a practical, credible partner. With advocacy efforts, the objective is usually to increase resources or pass new legislation. Unfortunately, sometimes factors beyond your control (such as the economic or political climate) may make it hard to reach those ends. As a result, it is very important to use additional measures to define success, including milestones such as getting your elected official to take action or securing support and commitments from a new stakeholder.
4. Map Out a One-Year or Two-Year Advocacy Plan With immediate and longer-term goals in mind, your coalition should work out a timeline that makes the most sense in your state policymaking environment. A basic, short-term timeline often tracks with the legislative calendar. However, achieving success on a state initiative can take several years. Therefore, your immediate objective for a year is not necessarily bill passage. It may be creation of a study commission, or having a bill passed out of a committee, thereby gaining momentum for enactment at a later time. These three factors will help your coalition define objectives for a state legislative session:
Opportunity What is the likelihood of success? Perhaps your issue has a new champion in the legislature or the governors office, or perhaps there is momentum to build upon from the prior session. An improved budget forecast often creates an opportunity. On the other hand, it also means you will face more competition for the attention of key leaders in position to affect the budget.
Potential impact Of all the initiatives you are considering, which would result in the most gain? You could view this question in terms of the number of homeless people who would be served or permanently housed next year. For the long run, being able to sustain support for a new program is a factor in assessing impact.
Strategic planning is an ongoing activity. Periodically assess the public policies most important for you or your coalition. Consider the issues and proposals most relevant to your overall mission and the people affected, as well as the policymaking environment.
Capacity With limited resources, what level of effort is reasonable to expect from your coalition? In addition to direct costs, think of training needs, availability of experts and leaders, and whether you may have to respond to opposition or competing proposals.
5. Select Your Targets
After your coalition has set its objectives, you will be able to decide targets. Targets refers to the people or groups you need to take a specific action, e.g., introduce or vote on a bill, or hold a hearing. A target is usually a legislator but sometimes it is also worthwhile to focus on opinion leaders, influential media, or the broader public. In target selection, be sure you understand which individuals and groups are in a position to take the action you need.
6. Map Out Action Steps After clarifying objectives and identifying targets, you can begin to brainstorm the actions that will motivate your targets to advance your agenda. These actions, sometimes also referred to as tactics, really describe the specific steps you plan to take to reach your objectives. Examples of tactics include:
Hosting a site visit for an official whose support you need;
Meeting as a group with your elected officials to ask for their vote on a specific bill;
Mobilizing volunteers and supporters to contact legislators with phone calls and email, and write letters to the editor.
Some tactics are more time-intensive, while others require less effort but may have less impact. Determine how much work is needed to reach the objectives you set, and then choose which tactics will be most effective. Careful planning of your activities will help you achieve your objectives without expending unnecessary resources on the effort. Again, the more time you put into an advocacy strategy, the more likely you are to be able to affect the outcome positively. Aiming for specific numbers of concrete actions will help your coalition structure and evaluate its efforts. Following specific strategies will help your coalition to be more goal-oriented and focused on results. Be realistic, but ambitious. Aim high and push your coalition to do its best in its efforts, but do not set yourself up for failure by choosing impossibly high outputs for your efforts.
Be very focused with your tactics. Instead of aiming to send letters or get media attention, aim to get the community to send 20 letters to an elected official or place one op-ed and three letters to the editor in the local paper about a certain piece of legislation.
Tips for Successful Communication Use helpful media attention as a springboard. Forward news items on homelessness to local legislative offices, adding a note about state policies that make a difference. When your coalition releases a new study or has new outcomes data, pass that information along, too. If a staff member seeks you out with questions, respond promptly and thoroughly. Being a staff members go-to person is a sign of a strong relationship and puts you in one of the best positions you can have as a constituent. Getting on the phone with a government official? Take a few minutes first to plan out exactly what you want to say. This will help you to be more concise and to better structure your remarks. Suggest a concrete action step a government official can take, such as sending a letter or voting for a specific bill at an appropriate time. Be clear about what you want to be done. Asking for something vague, such as to express their support on the issue of homelessness, does not always leave them with a clear sense of what you want them to do and is therefore less likely to result in any action at all.
State Advocacy Planning Toolkit
Making a Point with Data................................................................................................................ 9
Worksheets ............................................................................................................................... 10
Homeless Subpopulations in Your Community ..................................................................... 10
Community Health ................................................................................................................. 10
Talking Points Templates ........................................................................................................ 11
Medicaid Health Homes State Interagency Council Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Planning Your Action Steps ....................................................................................