MAHSD Homelessness Initiative

inspired and led by Preranaa Srinivas and Meghan Kane

Currently, Massachusetts is a “Right to Shelter” state. This means that the state is required to provide emergency shelter to eligible residents. Unfortunately, the eligibility requirements of this law denies a large portion of the homeless population these services. Only families with children under 21 and pregnant women with no other children can apply for aid. Those who apply must also jump through hoops to actually receive emergency services, providing documentation of staying in an unsafe environment for at least 24 hours. Anyone who fails to qualify is left out in the cold, where they face physical dangers, unfair bias, and discrimination.

That’s why MAHSD is launching a two part initiative - to care for all our neighbors, whether or not they have a home.

Lobbying for S.46

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This legislation, S.46/H.695 A Bill of Rights for people experiencing homelessness, would solve a common and unfortunate problem that exists in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: People experiencing homelessness are frequently denied access to services or discriminated against due to their living situation. The legislation as written, would achieve the following for people experiencing homelessness:

  • An end to discrimination in public places

  • An end to discrimination by state and municipal agencies

  • An end to employment discrimination

  • The right to emergency medical care

  • The right to vote without a permanent address

  • The right to a reasonable standard of privacy

The current bills (S denoting the Senate version and H denoting the House version), entitled S.46 and H.695 will be given new bill numbers and will likely be renamed in the new session, but the contents of the bills will remain mostly the same, as will the legislation’s broad base of support. Put forward by Senator Dorcena Forry in the Senate and Representative Pignatelli in the House, this legislation already has dozens of petitioners in the legislature, which means we have a real shot at passing this legislation. Read on to find out how! The links to the MA Legislature pages for both bills can be found below

Bill S.46: An Act creating a Bill of Rights for people experiencing homelessness

Bill H.695: An Act providing a homeless bill of rights

How to lobby:

There are a number of ways to contribute to the passage of this legislation. Members of MAHSD are encouraged to participate in whatever way works best for chapters and individuals. Some of these actions will be asked of individual chapters on the basis of need. For help with any of these actions, or for questions and concerns, contact Legislative Director Daniel Bryan at: dbryan@hsdems.org

Call your elected officials

Calling members of the legislature is the single best way to drum up support for a bill, and one that you can do from anywhere. There are two ways to go about making calls. The first is to use the list provided at the bottom of this document to contact high priority members. These are legislators whose support is especially important to the passage of the bill. Your call is especially meaningful if you are a constituent of a member on that list. The second way is to contact your Senator or Representative, regardless of their being on the list. This is useful for generally raising awareness of the legislation, whereas the first method will help with passing the bill through committee. We recommend if you are making calls to call at least one member from the list, and to call your Senator and Representative.

In terms of actually making the call, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, when you call a legislator at their Statehouse office number, you will almost definitely find yourself speaking to an aide. Most likely, the call will be brief due to aides being very busy. Therefore, it's important that you say a few things. A basic call outline would go something like this:

You: Hi, my name is (name). I’m a constituent of (Representative or Senator, last name) and i’m calling to let you know that I support S.46/H.695. (Say S.46 if calling a Senator or H.695 if calling a Representative.) (If you aren’t a constituent, say that you are calling on behalf of the Massachusetts High School Democrats.)

At this point, the person on the other line will either say: Got it. Thanks for calling, or continue the conversation and ask some questions. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of the legislation.

Email your elected officials

Emailing elected officials has the same effect as calling. You should again try to email members from the list below, especially if you are constituent, as well as your own representatives. You should email members using the email provided on the MA legislature website. In an email, be sure to state who you are, if you are constituent or not, that you are a member of MAHSD, that you support the bill, (be sure to provide the bill number, S.46 or H.695) and why you support the bill. Remember to be polite and keep it brief.

Meet with a legislator

Certain chapters will be asked specifically to hold a meeting with their legislators, but you are welcome to meet with or talk to any member in support of this legislation. To set up a meeting, email a member at the address provided on the MA Legislature website requesting a meeting. For help with this, email Daniel Bryan at dbryan@hsdems.org. Meetings make great activities for your whole chapter. In a meeting, it's important to be sure to state who you are, if you are constituent or not, that you are a member of MAHSD, that you support the bill, (be sure to provide the bill number, S.46 or H.695) and why you support the bill. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of the legislation. However, legislators do not expect you to know tons of details.

Write testimony for committee hearings

This action will be asked of several chapters, however, everyone is welcome to write testimony in support of the legislation. If writing testimony to a committee is something you are interested in, contact Daniel Bryan at dbryan@hsdems.org

Write a letter to the editor

Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to build public support for legislation. If your town has a local newspaper, there’s probably a section where they allow you to write a letter to the editor. These letters are then published in a later issue. For help writing a letter to the editor, contact Daniel Bryan at dbryan@hsdems.org

Share on social media

If your chapter has its own social media, be sure to post about S.46/H.695. Be sure to provide some details. Individual members are also encouraged to post. Social media materials will be provided at a later date, so be on the lookout.

List of relevant members

This list will be provided as soon as committee assignments are made for the new session of the legislature. These members are especially important to target using the methods above. They are members of the House and Senate committees on ways and means. The bill needs to clear one of the committees to advance.

Community Service

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The second aspect of this project is direct service to the Massachusetts homeless. The goal of the service aspect of this project is to fundraiser for, create, and distribute winter care packages to the homeless in your area to help them cope with the harsh winter. Here are steps you can take to successfully make a difference in your community this winter!

  1. Host a fundraiser.  The first step in creating care packages is fundraising for the items that you are going to put in them. There are a variety of ways you can fundraise for materials, such as car washes or bake sales. Fundraisers can be held at your school or in areas in your community, such as churches, recreation centers, and even grocery stores. You can also hold a donation drive at your school for materials and see if you can get free items to put in your care packages.

  2. Make list of the goods you want to buy/distribute. The next step in the process is making a list. You should take into account the amount of money you have to spend and buy. You want to include hygienic items such as baby wipes, bandaids, and feminine care products, consumable items such as apples and water, and items for the cold such scarves and socks. You want to make sure to do some research before you choose what things you want to put into your packages: for example, you shouldn’t put mouthwash in care packages because it contains alcohol. Please see links for further information for more information on what your care packages should contain.

  3. Buy the goods. The following step is to actually buy the goods that you are going to put in your packages. The best thing to do is to go somewhere where items are not that expensive, such as Walmart, as opposed to your local grocery store. Make sure you stick to your list. More importantly, go with your friends/chapter, it makes it all the more fun!

  4. Make the care packages. The next step is to make the care packages. It is up to you on how you want to make them, but an assembly line setup may be the most effective method. Grab a couple friends (or preferably your entire chapter), get some music playing, get some snacks set out, and start making some care packages! You can use paper bags or gallon-sized ziplock bags to put your items in. To add a nice finishing touch, leave an inspirational note.

  5. Distribute the care packages. The final step is to distribute the care packages. The distribution location is up to you. Choose wisely, however, and make sure you are going to an area where you can help a lot of people, as you don’t want your care packages to go to waste! Once you determine the date and time to distribute, make a fun day of it. Go with your chapter, take pictures, and have fun doing something good for your community.