My Day in Olympia
Kirk McClain, Emerging Advocates Program
It’s always been difficult for me to understand why my experience of homelessness had any value to lawmakers, but after this most recent trip to Olympia, I now I realize that my five years living without shelter actually makes me an expert in that area. I can do all the research I want about the history of bills, and the technical aspects of programs and services, and how laws are passed, but at the end of the day, I was the one who received the services currently being debated in Olympia, and I know exactly how they are being administered out in the field.
That’s why I know how important Rep. Macri’s bill, House Bill 1570 is for people experiencing homelessness, (if you don’t’ know about the bill, check out this blog post). So, I traveled to Olympia to talk to my district representatives about how HB 1570 was crucial to helping people experiencing homelessness, and that the services funded by this bill often mean the difference between life and death for some people living on the street. Because I had studied the bill and had first-hand knowledge of the issues the bill addressed, I felt like my viewpoint had credibility and I could speak with confidence to my legislators.
My day began with me and other advocates giving testimony about how HB 1570 should be funded at least to the same level as last year, and how the Housing Trust Fund was important to low-income renters because it actually provides housing for so many who can’t afford market rate apartments. Then I met both of my district representatives and asked them to vote yes on HB 1570.
The most amazing part of my day was meeting with two Republican representatives who, until they heard my story, were probably going to vote NO on HB 1570. Because I had previously developed a relationship with both of those representatives I got the opportunity to tell them my story.
After talking to me one and one and hearing my story, one of legislators actually promised me he would vote for yes on HB 1570, and the other legislator is open to discuss his doubts with me about the bill. Remember, both of these lawmakers are Republicans! I honestly don’t think the legislator that promised to vote yes did it because of my knowledge of the bill itself. I think he did it because he was moved by my personal story with homelessness, and also because of the relationship I am building with him. So the biggest lesson I learned in Olympia that day is that sometimes getting to know your lawmaker – even if they are not from your political party – can be the best way to get them to consider your viewpoint, and possibly get them to vote for your issue.