More than 820 people registered for Homeless Day on the Hill (DOTH), which took place on March 6, 2018. Read the reflections of two Homeless Day on the Hill volunteers Jocelyn Kortan (Vice President, Christensen Group Insurance) and Ashley Brusse (University of Minnesota, Masters of Social Work Student) below. This piece is cross-posted from Homes for All Coalition member, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.
Photo: Homeless Day on the Hill advocates pose with Senator Dave Senjem (center), chief author of the Homes for All MN bonding bill.
1.How did you hear about MCH and DOTH?
Jocelyn: I found out about MCH and DOTH simply by chance. At the end of 2017, I relocated my career to Minneapolis by way of St. Cloud. Volunteerism has always been a priority of mine so I knew I wanted to get involved in the community as soon as possible. While working in St. Cloud, I was on the United Way Investment Team for Homelessness Committee, which laid the foundation for my passion in working with and advocating for nonprofits that service those experiencing homelessness. After connecting with MCH for the first time, I knew it would be a good fit—I am so proud of the work they are doing and excited to witness the impact they have on our communities.
Ashley: I am a Master’s of Social Work student at the University of Minnesota. To get hands-on, real-life experience for a project in my Advanced Policy Advocacy course we are to join a current organization in their policy advocacy efforts. A majority of my career thus far has been focused towards homelessness, housing instability, and people with disabilities, so it was a no-brainer when deciding what I would like to advocate for.
2. How many DOTHs have you attended?
Jocelyn: 2018 was my first Day on the Hill and what a learning experience it was for me!
Ashley: This was my first DOTH for people experiencing homelessness. I have been to a couple Social Work Days on the Hill.
3. What did you like about the morning of Homeless DOTH?
Jocelyn: I was overwhelmed by the amount of support Homeless Day on the Hill received. Coming together as a group was so impactful.
Ashley: The morning of Homeless DOTH was very inspiring. Even with the terrible snow that happened the night before so many advocates showed up. There were providers, county workers, people from DHS, residents in the community, and most importantly people experiencing homelessness all in one place trying to achieve the same goal.
4. Which lawmaker did you visit? How did it go? Do they support Homes for All?
Jocelyn: I was the District Captain for those representing 49A. We started our day meeting with Legislative Assistant, Jessica Oaxaca, on behalf of Senator Melisa Franzen. While we had a fantastic meeting with Ms. Oaxaca, we are uncertain whether Senator Franzen specifically supports Homes for All or not. With that being said, Ms. Oaxaca gave our group roughly 45 minutes of her time to discuss Homes for All, and really, anything else people wanted to discuss. Everyone in the room was able to share their individual experiences and how homelessness affects them and their loved ones, including their community. We left our meeting with Ms. Oaxaca feeling optimistic. As the day went on, our group definitely got smaller, but we sure had an awesome lobbying experience with Representative Dario Anselmo—we literally had to request that he leave Committee by way of a hand-written note. From there, we had roughly 5 minutes of his time in a loud crowded hallway. The highlight of our meeting was listening to Mark Wilkening, Executive Director at Bridging (a sponsor from Homeless Day on the Hill!), discuss the ways in which they help individuals and families exiting homelessness. Bridging was founded in 1987 and gives hope, and for many, a leap toward financial stability for the first time. As families face the exhausting challenge of finding affordable housing, employment, education and healthcare they are left with severely limited resources to furnish their new homes. A furnished home environment is a basis for improved job performance, better grades in school and healthy family interactions. Bridging services over 4,000 households each year and willing to grow as more affordable housing becomes available. Through Mark’s stories, we were able to demonstrate to Representative Anselmo that there is a true need for more of us to support Homes for All. By the end of our short, but effective meeting, we came to the conclusion we had his support, and for that, we thank him!
Photo: Homes for All policy team members testify in support of the Homes for All MN bonding bill.
Ashley: I was in a very unique position and had the ability to go to a few lawmaker visits. I was a District Captain for 61A. The primary responsibilities for District Captains are to facilitate the conversation and ensure that everyone that wants to speak, gets a chance to speak and to get a hard yes or no from their lawmakers. The morning meeting with Representative Frank Hornstein went very well. There were a couple of people that were experiencing or have experienced homelessness that had the opportunity to discuss their struggles and the need for more affordable housing with Representative Hornstein. I had the opportunity to sit down with these individuals after the lawmaker visit and collect their stories to send to Representative Hornstein for future use at committee meetings and in session. Later in the day constituents from district 61 met with Senator Scott Dibble. The makeup of this lawmaker meeting shifted towards direct service workers including housing workers, case managers, nurses, shelter advocates, faith-based providers, and members of the community. It was a pleasure to meet with Senator Dibble and receive his support on the Homes for All Agenda. Both Representative Hornstein and Senator Dibble were very engaged in the conversation with their constituents and seemed genuinely interested in their concerns. Both gave their support of the 2018 Homes for All legislative agenda.
In addition to meeting with the lawmakers in the district that I live, I had the opportunity to meet with Senator David Senjem, chief author of the Homes for All bill in the Senate. I attended this meeting because I just recently moved from this district and am doing another community based project for a Housing Policy course at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The aim of this project is to identify gaps in the current housing services for people experiencing housing instability and homelessness in Olmsted County and discuss funding streams and structure of emergency shelter. Since Senator Senjem was already on board with the 2018 Homes for All legislative agenda, the constituents had the opportunity to discuss how the homeless response system is working in his district, success stories of clients, and reiterate the importance of adding more affordable and extremely affordable housing to the community. We also got a quick lesson on how a bill is written, and how it gets to become a law.
5. What’s something you’d like your friends/family to know about homelessness and housing insecurity?
Jocelyn: People experiencing homelessness are real people. They have hopes, dreams, needs, and dignity just like the rest of us. Whether you can help them or not, please treat them like people.
Ashley: We need to move away from the stigma associated with people experiencing homelessness. They are humans just like you and me that have fallen through the cracks and have not been heard. Understanding the trauma and struggle that these people have gone through is imperative to changing this stigma. There is not one cause that leads to homelessness and is actually very complex. The systemic failures and barriers to success are still are feeding into housing instability today and need to be addressed. Until they are, and until we can properly fund social services and housing we’re going to be faced with the same issues. This needs to be a community effort in conjunction with our lawmakers and we need to join together to help out our neighbors. Recognize the privileges in your lifetime that have to lead you to where you are now, and understand that this is not the case for so many other Americans. There are too many that are rent burdened and are paying more than 30% of their income just on housing, and too many that are one paycheck away from becoming homeless to ignore the lack of affordable and extremely affordable housing in our communities.
6. Are you involved with MCH and Homes for All? Would you do more lobby visits in the future?
Jocelyn: I am willing to support MCH and Homes for All in any way that I’m able. You will definitely see me at DOTH ’19.
Ashley: I’m going to continue to be involved with MCH and Homes for All long after this project is complete. This has been a wonderful experience. It is imperative to stay up to date on what’s going on at the Capitol and visiting with your lawmakers when you are working in social services. This is just the beginning of my lobbying work.
7. Anything else you’d like to comment on the day?
Jocelyn: Overall, what a great day! I am so glad I connected with MCH and was able to get involved.