Congresswoman Calls On Colleagues To Spend A Night In A Homeless Shelter

CREDIT: Shawn Davis

A disabled army vet who is homeless asks passersby for help in a tony area of Washington D.C.

Last month, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) shed the comforts of her own home, spending a night at a homeless shelter in her Bay Area congressional district. Her goal was simple: to better understand the cruelty of poverty and homelessness by hearing directly from people affected by it.

Her night in a shelter had such a profound impact on the congresswoman that she’s now setting a larger goal: get fellow members of Congress to spend a night among the homeless as well.

On Thursday, Speier began circulating a letter among her colleagues, encouraging them to take the Homeless Shelter Challenge. “Spend the night, break bread, listen, learn, and move toward providing some hope to those who need it the most,” she urged her fellow lawmakers.

In the letter, Speier recounted some of the interactions she had during her night in the shelter. “One couple I spoke with both work full-time, one at Safeway and the other at Office Max,” she wrote. “Two people with two full-time jobs and they’re homeless? It’s not right.” Another woman she met had wound up homeless after being raped in the military and subsequently getting discharged under the now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for being gay.

Speier’s staff told ThinkProgress that multiple congressional offices have already expressed an interest in partaking in the Homeless Shelter Challenge. Her office said the congresswoman would continue to keep the pressure up, circulating the letter every week or two and giving it directly to her colleagues on the House floor.

Speier isn’t the only member of Congress who has spent time shadowing homeless people. Over the holidays, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) shadowed a Connecticut homeless man, “Nick,” for a day, seeing first-hand how difficult it can be to escape homelessness. “Without a place to live, Nick can’t find a job, but without a house, it’s much harder for him to kick his drug habit,” Murphy told ThinkProgress.

Initiating the Homeless Shelter Challenge wasn’t Speier’s goal from the outset, her staff told ThinkProgress. Rather, the idea of creating a campaign modeled after the SNAP Challenge sprung up afterward, Speier’s office relayed. The SNAP Challenge is a widespread and successful campaign that encourages people, especially lawmakers, to live off of $4.50 per day for a week in order to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be on food stamps.