“One Voice” — Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day Through the Eyes of a First-Time Advocate

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Going into my first Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD), I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about calling myself a “housing advocate.” As a project assistant, I have created content that can be used as tools for advocacy and I have attended advocacy events, but I was afraid that I had not done enough advocacy to be an effective participant at HHAD. After participating in #HHAD2017, I realized that I could not have been more wrong.

In this blog post, I will recount my experience attending HHAD as a first-time advocate and explain how it changed my perception of what it means to be an advocate.

What is Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day?

HHAD is one of the largest organized lobby days in Washington State and is hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA). This year, more than 650 people from all walks of life gathered in Olympia on Feb. 2 to advocate and speak directly to legislators. Although the schedule changes slightly each year, the main components of the day are the morning call to action, workshops, the rally at the Legislative Building and pre-arranged meetings with legislators.

The purpose of HHAD is to enable housing advocates and constituents to show their lawmakers that they care about finding a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis in Washington state while also advancing WLIHA’s legislative agenda items, which can be viewed here.

Preparing for my first HHAD

Since this was my first time attending HHAD, I did a lot of research beforehand to ensure that I could be an effective advocate and participant. The first resources I looked to were HHAD reflections from past project assistants including a Firesteel blog post from 2013 by Perry Firth and a photo essay by Haley Jo Lewis from 2014. Both reflections were helpful because they gave me a general idea of how the day would be structured, but I noticed that neither of them mentioned feeling nervous about going into meetings with their legislators (which is what I was most anxious about).

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My colleagues and I prepared for HHAD 2017 by hosting an on-campus event to invite the Seattle University community to join our fight against homelessness. L-R: Mandy, me (Shan), Khadija. Photo by Catherine Hinrichsen, courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

 

In addition to learning from the experiences of others, our team planned a HHAD event on campus while participating in Social Media Day of Action on Jan. 31. The main purpose of our “Give a Heart, Get a Heart” campus event was to get the Seattle University community involved in HHAD through a tabling activity. We did this by engaging participants in discussion about homelessness, affordable housing, HHAD and more while also answering their questions.

We asked each participant to write a message on a heart-shaped sticky note about what “home” means to them. All the messages were collected and placed on a poster, designed by Mandy, that we brought to HHAD. (See more about that event here.) For me, hosting the on-campus event was an integral part of my personal preparation for HHAD, because to explain the legislative agenda items to other people, it meant that I had to have a good understanding of them myself.

The Day We’d Been Waiting For: HHAD 2017 Timeline

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A visual timeline of HHAD 2017 illustrated by my colleague Mandy Rusch.

 

On the day of HHAD we left for Olympia bright and early. As we were nearing the Capitol Campus, I remember seeing clusters of people wearing red scarves and instantly feeling a sense of solidarity with them. We were all here for the same reason, united by the same cause. Soon after our arrival, we were off to begin a day full of advocacy activities.

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The long-awaited red scarves! Photo courtesy of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

A Crash Course in Advocacy: Morning Call to Action and Meeting with my Legislative District

Before heading to the Capitol Campus, all the HHAD participants convened in a nearby church where we registered and attended the morning call to action. I was excited to register because I knew I would get my long-awaited red scarf which all participants wear as a symbol of solidarity. I was also happy to receive a red folder which would become my HHAD survival guide, full of important information about the day.

During the morning call to action, Housing Alliance Board President Liz Trautman of Mockingbird Society briefed us on the agenda for the day, as well as the bill numbers we were supporting. HB5407 and SB1633 would outlaw Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) and HB1570 is the Washington Housing Opportunities Act, which eliminates the sunset on document recording fees, the major source of funding to fight homelessness in our state. In addition to pushing the bills, it was also our goal to get lawmakers to invest $200 million in the Housing Trust Fund.

After being briefed on the legislative agenda items, I felt much more confident to meet with my legislative group as well as with the legislators from my district. I felt as though a lot of people had also been unsure about the legislative agenda items, which made me feel like we were learning about them together. I realized that I didn’t have to come in knowing everything to be an effective participant.

After the morning call to action, we broke up to meet with our legislative districts. If you are unsure about which legislative district you are in, you can check here, which is where I had found that I am part of the 37th District. Each district had at least one HHAD leader who would guide them through the meeting process.

My district had two leaders who had attended HHAD in the past. They both explained that legislators react best to personal stories rather than just informing them about policies. Because we had more than 15 people in our legislative district, we decided that one person should share a personal story for each legislative agenda item. Because there was such a heavy emphasis on personal experience, I felt as though I had nothing to contribute. I have never personally experienced homelessness so I thought that I didn’t have any personal experience that would be useful to share with legislators. However, after meeting with our legislator, I realized everyone is affected when people are homeless and that I also have a right to affordable housing.

Adding to my Toolbox: Social Media for Advocacy Workshop

We joined Reiny Cohen from the WLIHA and Sara Baker from the Housing Development Consortium for the Social Media for Advocacy Workshop, where we learned how Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be used as platforms for advocacy. The most interesting thing that I learned in the workshop was about paying to boost Facebook posts. Reiny explained that boosting Facebook posts had increased WLIHA’s engagement, but also noted that once you pay to boost a post, it will be difficult to stop doing so.

For more information about how social media can be used for advocacy, check out my colleague Khadija’s Storify about the social media for advocacy workshop here. You’ll see lots of photos and posts from the entire day of #HHAD2017.

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Everyone assembled on the Capitol steps for the Rally for Homes. Photo courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

One Voice: Rally for Homes

I stood on the lower left side of the Capitol steps and all I could see was a sea of red scarves; all I could hear was the chanting of one united voice. The rally for homes was my favorite part of HHAD. At first, I was nervous. Something about standing on the steps of the Capitol, chanting, seemed disruptive but I realized that was exactly the purpose of this portion of the day: to be heard.

The beat of the Chief Seattle Club Drummers radiated through my entire body while Unity Flags by Real Change vendor Susan Russell waved above my head. I steadily chanted “homelessness has got to go” with the others while Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kennedy, Rep. Nicole Macri and Sen. Rebecca Saldana encouraged us to be louder, chanting with us. This was undoubtedly the most surreal experience of the day. I had never imagined that one day I would be rallying on the steps of the Capitol with hundreds of other advocates.

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I was able to get a picture of Rep. Pettigrew as one of our district speakers talked to him about source of income discrimination. Photo courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

Advocacy in Action: Meeting with Rep. Pettigrew

Still feeling energized from the rally for homes, I followed the crowd of advocates to the sandwich line and had a quick lunch before finding my legislative district for our meeting with Rep. Eric Pettigrew of the 37th Legislative District. We knew that we had a limited amount of time with him, so we had already planned what we were going to say and who was going to speak on what bill. I did not have a speaking part, so I went into the meeting ready to observe.

Many of the people from my district who spoke had firsthand experience working with people who are homeless and could share their personal stories. Rep. Pettigrew seemed to really care and listen. He even asked one speaker to email him examples when she explained that landlords are “getting tricky” regarding source of income discrimination, such as by writing 10-month leases instead of 12, and asking for two months of rent before tenants move in (tough for tenants using Section 8 vouchers). I was relieved to see how much he cared about us and happy to say that he supports all our legislative agenda items.

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Even though signs were not allowed at the rally, I couldn’t resist taking a picture with our poster in front of the Capitol. Photo by Mandy Rusch, courtesy of Shan Yonamine

Conclusion: A Day for All

As the day ended, I made an important realization. HHAD is for everyone – not just for longtime advocates or people with “personal experience”; literally anyone could have attended HHAD and gained something. HHAD is not only for the experienced advocates, it’s for people who want to learn and for anyone who cares about homelessness. My misconception that I had to be an expert on law and housing policy before going could not have been more wrong.

So, if you are thinking about attending HHAD next year I strongly encourage you to attend no matter what level of experience you have with advocacy. Everyone has something to gain from this day.

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Mandy, Khadija and me at the end of a long but rewarding HHAD! Catherine likes that we all tied our red scarves in a different way. We are all wearing our “Give a Heart” t-shirts from our campus HHAD event. Photo by Catherine Hinrichsen.

What You Can Do

  • Most important: Get on the action alert list for WLIHA and keep advocating for safe, healthy, affordable homes! You can get on the list here. WLIHA will send you emails when it’s time to contact your lawmakers, and the emails will automatically be sent right to your specific legislators.
  • Check the progress of the bills advocates are pushing for via WLIHA’s Bill and Budget Tracker.

To learn more about HHAD, here’s a collection of resources:

  • Videos: Firesteel’s and WLIHA’s first HHAD video — still great! — and WLIHA’s new HHAD video, featuring “advocacy queen” Nancy Amidei talking about community education and organizing.
  • Blog Posts: Our former project team members share their observances about HHAD in this Firesteel blog post from 2014 by former project coordinator Perry Firth and Haley’s photo essay from 2015. Firesteel’s 2015 HHAD blog post gives even more insight on the agenda items, the Social Media workshop and more.

To see what Seattle University students have done over the past few years to recognize HHAD on campus, check these out:

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