Messages that Work• Homeless services actually prevent and endHomelessness for those most in need.• Homeless services are ...
Messages that are NOT Working• Rising demand for homeless services.• Increasing turn-aways from homelessservices.• Impact ...
Crafting Your Own Message• Think outcomes, not outputs.• Mine your data options.• Build a coalition around the same messag...
Other Considerations• Don’t underestimate the impact ofconsumer involvement.• Site visits can be more powerful than lobbyd...
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1.7 Getting Involved: Effective Messaging for Advocacy

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1.7 Getting Involved: Effective Messaging for Advocacy

Speaker: Nicole Amling

It is critical that policymakers understand the importance of providing adequate resources for homeless assistance. However, it can be difficult to find a message that resonates with this key audience. This workshop will review the basics of getting involved in advocacy and developing a message. Presenters will also explore effective strategies for communicating with policymakers in the current fiscal climate.

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  • A few words about the Chicago Alliance and what I do.In these challenging economic times, the Chicago Alliance has found that we have had to alter our advocacy messages. Moving away from “need” messaging toward “outcome” messaging.It has been hard to move our fellow advocates toward this direction.But providers got it right away – they have been convincing private funders of their outcomes for years.A state legislator told us point blank in the fall of 2010 that we couldn’t talk “need” anymore. Everyone has need. What are we accomplishing with the money the state gives us? She wanted to see our program outcomes laid out neatly in a chart. Sample Fact SheetOther messages that have resonated are, not surprisingly, money-related:Is this intervention cheaper than others? Prevention is less expensive than shelter. Supportive housing saves money spent at the ER. Say so! Do your own cost comparisons or look into cost-effectiveness studies. Also, does a relatively small local investment translate into a federal match? Everyone loves to squeeze more out of the feds – especially with such large deficits at the state and municipal level. For example, in Illinois, every dollar the state spends on supportive housing brings in $8 of federal match. That is a great bang for your buck.
  • Many of you have done advocacy and we all know what we usually say: there aren’t enough beds/services for the number of people who need them. In my recent experience, legislators don’t want to hear about us needing more year after year. These messages are not resonating with our legislators – even though they are the traditional messages of human services advocacy.It can be challenging for us as advocates and providers, because these are the compelling messages. More people need our services? More people falling into homelessness? Our peers getting laid off? Of course that should be an important policy consideration. And even though it is a money message, we have found that our legislators are not thinking long-term right now. Sure you might be able to prove that investing in a homeless youth now will mean they are less likely to end up in prison and cost the state exponentially more? But that is a problem for future fiscal years, and legislators want immediate cost savings.
  • Every state and every community is different – but I would venture to say that all of our communities are dealing with fiscal constraints and all of our policymaking bodies are facing tough choices about resource allocation.The “homeless lobby” is in a fortunate place because we DO have good outcomes. Our programs do work and we need to continue to prove it. We have great data at our disposal – HMIS, AHAR, APRs, quarterly HPRP reports, etc. Make sure you understand your data and use it every opportunity you get. Don’t tell us how many people you serve. Tell us how many people get permanently housed. My organization is small. We would probably never be able to make an impact with our message if we didn’t have other organizations and communities repeating it. We have been successful in building a strong statewide coalition that includes other advocacy groups, providers, and even the City of Chicago. We all use the same messages and it led to a big win last November:The state had slashed our Emergency and Transitional Housing line item by 52% in June. It was a huge blow to our community and we rallied all the troops to prove how effective and cost-efficient these services were. We did all the traditional advocacy things: testified at hearings, lobby days, call-in days, letter writing, etc. But the message and the coalition were strong enough to convince the legislature to pass a supplemental appropriation in November restoring full funding to the program.Things can change fast, so listen to your legislators and tweak your messages to meet their needs.
  • Of course, nothing in life or advocacy is cookie-cutter. And there are other considerations when you are trying to craft a winning advocacy message.I cannot overstate the importance of consumer involvement. Personal stories are still compelling in any budget environment. And they are even more compelling when told directly by a recipient of your services. Taking the time to prep and involve your consumers in advocacy is worth every minute of effort:Recently, I had the pleasure of escorting a young homeless woman from Chicago to DC to testify at a House subcommittee hearing. She was eloquent and passionate and inspiring and every legislator that met her was impressed. In fact, I met with more Congressmen in that one day than I have my whole career. She was able to open doors for our message and she was the most impressive spokeswoman. Venue is also important. City Hall or your state capitol can often be overwhelming places where your message is drowned out by competing demands and louder lobbies. As much as possible, we try to bring our legislators out to our home turf to show them the outcomes in action. For all the work it takes to put together a lobby day, sometimes your efforts could be better spent organizing two or three site visits with key policymakers. They will never forget the pictures on the wall or the families they meet or the services they see being delivered. We have found that certain legislators (especially Republicans) need to be hooked with a special population before they can be educated about the entire issue. For example, we are working to win over Sen. Kirk, himself a veteran, by talking about veteran homelessness. Other legislators find youth or family homelessness more compelling.
  • 1.7 Getting Involved: Effective Messaging for Advocacy

    1. 1. Messages that Work• Homeless services actually prevent and endHomelessness for those most in need.• Homeless services are less expensive thanother government-funded interventions.• Local investments in homeless servicesleverage federal dollars.
    2. 2. Messages that are NOT Working• Rising demand for homeless services.• Increasing turn-aways from homelessservices.• Impact of funding cuts on provider agencies,including staff lay-offs.• Investing in homeless services now will paydividends later.
    3. 3. Crafting Your Own Message• Think outcomes, not outputs.• Mine your data options.• Build a coalition around the same message.• Be responsive to the changing politicallandscape.
    4. 4. Other Considerations• Don’t underestimate the impact ofconsumer involvement.• Site visits can be more powerful than lobbydays.• Special populations, like veterans or youth,can serve as gateway to the issue.

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