A Senator Stops By

written by naehblog
November 1, 2012

Today's guest blog post was contributed by Erin Bock, assistant director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb.

At my most recent visit to Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns’ Office on Capitol Hill Day, I was gearing up to make a request. Over the last couple of years, I hadn’t had much luck. So you can imagine my surprise when he said “yes” to my request that he come and see the great work being done at a homeless service provider within the Continuum of Care (CoC) in Omaha, Neb.

From there, it was easy. Senator Johanns had signed into law significant behavioral health reforms while he was governor in 2004. Our CoC, also known as Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, or MACCH, had many success stories that linked with those reforms, especially our local 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The Senator and his staff arrived at Omaha’s Community Alliance on a Tuesday afternoon in August. We met in roundtable fashion, the discussion being led by the leadership from MACCH’s interagency housing team. Not only did local homeless service providers showcase MACCH’s collective success in serving the community’s most vulnerable, but we were able to show how federal funding streams make this kind of work possible.

We also gained greater insight into the political world that senators inhabit. I can’t imagine being informed about the myriad of constituent groups, legislative priorities, and funding streams that senators have to keep track of. I left our meeting with tremendous appreciation for the work our elected officials undertake every day.

Since that meeting one month ago, Senator Johanns’ office has participated in our local homeless symposium, sought information about acting to further our collective work and acted with us on specific efforts aligned with our mission.  We believe this synergy was a direct result of our active engagement of public leadership.  It re-enforces the value that can come from both hill and site visits.

My boss and I call our work with the Continuum of Care in Omaha an extreme sport. We’re figuring this out as we go. The lessons learned from Senator Johanns’ visit are thus:

  • Even tiny organizations can have an impact. We’re a two-person entity but have the partnership with our CoC providers, funders and advocates aligned toward the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in our community;
  • Consistency of effort pays off, even if it’s effort at a modest scale;
  • Elected officials need help to stay on top of the federal legislation that is so important to helping us achieve our goal; and
  • The National Alliance for Ending Homelessness is a valuable resource in assisting organizations with their local advocacy work.

Photo: Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns and staff from the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb, August 7, 2012.