And What to Say When You Do
Many of our articles around here end with a plea for readers to contact your local representatives and urge them to make changes to impact the lives of the homeless people in their district. This is simple- politicians have a lot of power to leverage in the effort to end homelessness, and that’s the end goal we’re working toward. But if you’ve never contacted your local representatives before, it may seem like a pretty intimidating thing to do. You might not even know where to start and give up before beginning.
Not to worry! Invisible People has a handy little tool that walks you through the whole process.
How to Use the Talk To Your Legislators Tool
To use the tool, you need to type in your home address or another address nearby where you live. This information allows the tool to look up who your legislators are on a national level.
Once you input your address, you’ll see several relatively high-level politicians, including the current president, the two Senators for your state, and the Congressional Representative for your local area. There’s also a prefilled letter that you can sign and send off as-is, though the tool encourages you to write your personalized message if at all possible.
The best part about this tool is that it automatically sends your letter off to all of the legislators you select without going back and forth tracking down email addresses or contact forms. You can type up your letter once, enter your information, and send it off to all your national representatives with a single click.
Contacting Legislators Closer to Home
It can be easy to feel like your one voice isn’t being heard by Senators and Representatives that hear from hundreds or thousands of constituents each day. If you want to make a more significant impact, consider speaking up in venues closer to home.
There are a plethora of even more localized elected officials that you can contact to improve living conditions for your unhoused neighbors and work toward a future without homelessness. These include offices like Mayor, City Clerk, Chief of Police, County Supervisor, District Attorney, Governor, State Senator, and many more. You can quickly form quite a long list when looking for local officials to contact.
A good way to find these hyper-local representatives is by using the tool at commoncause.org, which works very similarly to Invisible People’s tool. When I put in my address, I got back a list of nearly 30 people I could potentially contact, including phone numbers and websites.
You can also keep an ear out for local town hall meetings that might touch on homelessness. They’re usually pretty easy to spot. Just follow the cloud of NIMBYs flocking to them to protest the imaginary devaluation of their property.
What to Say
Often, the most effective way to connect with your representative and inspire change is to share your personal story. Whether you’re writing about your own experience with homelessness or the spark that lit a fire under you to try and address it, write from the heart as much as you can. Pre-written messages are better than nothing, but a personalized one can have more impact.
Still, if you’re not ready to start entirely from scratch, here’s a little template to get you started:
[Today’s Date – only necessary if you’re writing a physical letter]
[Your recipient’s title, name, and address – Again, only necessary for physical letters.]
Dear [Title] [Last Name],
As a constituent, I am writing today to request that you [specific action you’d like to see this person do. If it’s voting yes/no on a specific bill, include the bill name and number.]
[Performing the requested action] is vital for the wellbeing of our unhoused neighbors because [include no more than 3 of the strongest arguments for the benefits of the thing you’re asking your representative to do. Well-researched statistics are often a good fit. Try and keep it brief but compelling and end with the argument you feel is strongest.]
This issue is particularly important to me because [this is the place to share your personal story. The more unique or moving it is, the greater the chances of your letter actually being seen by the person it’s addressed to.]
Thank you for your time and attention. Please respond to let me know how you plan to address this issue.
[Sign your name on a typed or written letter]
[Print your name]
[Add your address, so they know where to send a reply and can verify that you are a constituent.]
How to Say It
How you write your letter can also make a difference in how it is received. On a busy day, your representative might ignore their email inbox, but a printed- or even better- handwritten letter might get their attention. To some people, the more time and effort you put into writing a message, the more it means to you and consequently to them. But only to a certain extent. Letters longer than a page are more likely to be skimmed than thoughtfully read through. Try and keep it short.
Suppose you’re more of an extemporaneous speaker. In that case, you may also choose to call your representatives on the phone and let them know you care about the issue of homelessness and want to see specific actions taken by their office.
Depending on the office of the person, you may or may not be able to speak with them directly. Obviously, it will be difficult to dial up the president. But you may have more luck with your local representatives. If you speak to a legislative aid, your opinion will become part of a report, which is still something. But if you can actually speak with the representative you’re calling, this can be an extremely effective way to spur them into taking action.
Now get out there and contact your representatives!
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