The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless has been fighting since 1984 to end
homelessness in Minnesota. Through its community education, legislative advocacy,
and organizing activities the Coalition works to prevent homelessness by helping
communities design homeless response systems that meet their needs.
This summer I worked on the coalition’s annual conference “Our Way Home” which will take place on September 29 & 30, 2003 at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge. Attendees will participate in a series of workshops and institutes designed to highlight partnerships communities have formed to bridge the gap between people experiencing homelessness, homeless service providers, and those who control the financial, political and human resources that must be utilized to end it. It is an opportunity for all attendees to learn, organize, and network.
Because of the severe economic crisis in Minnesota is currently facing, it is particularly important that service providers, organizers, and people experiencing homelessness come together to develop campaigns and services in order to achieve the most effective plans possible while preventing overlap of resources that often takes place between related organizations and efforts. The Coalition for the Homeless' conference is geared towards a broad range of groups including people who have or are experiencing homelessness, homeless service providers, mainstream service providers, community activists, funders, communities of faith, advocates, case managers, grassroots organizers, and policy makers. As Coalition staff, we believe that bringing these diverse groups together, to combine their efforts, will allow limited budgets to bring about significant social change.
My personal contributions in planning the Coalition's "Our Way Home" Conference include helping to develop 30 workshops that highlight new and innovative ways that groups have come together to combat homelessness throughout the state as well as workshops that respond to the hopes and needs of people experiencing homelessness and frontline homeless service providers. Workshops such as “Revealing Homelessness to Rural Governments,” “Working for Systemic Change,” and “Grassroots Organizing Made Fun” will be included in this year's conference, which will offer new approaches to ending homelessness.
After conducting numerous board meetings and making countless phone calls to determine the 30 workshops that would be most important to include in the conference, I contacted key staff and board members to locate presenters who were experienced with innovative approaches that addressed the conference’s theme. We already have presenters from academia and from the field, from urban and rural Minnesota, and presenters who are experiencing homelessness and other who have worked for years along side of those who have.
I also played a significant role in developing our conference brochure and manual. This year’s conference brochure was more comprehensive than the brochures the Coalition has provided for the conference in the past. Unlike previous years, where the Coalition did not have an intern working primarily on the conference, we were able to provide potential attendees with a complete list of the exact workshops that would be offered at the conference, as well as detailed information on keynote and plenary speakers, and the conference agenda. In the past, the brochure has been a somewhat vague resource, which provided potential workshop topics and often did not include the conference’s highlighted presenters (because by the time the brochure went out these presenters were still unconfirmed). It was important that we were able to provide this information to potential attendees this year, because the limited budgets of social service agencies will force them to be extremely selective in choosing the staff development opportunities, which they will utilize.
In preparing the conference resource manual, which all attendees receive, I strived to include almost exclusively, practical information and trainings that would be of long-term value. For example, guides on how to write an editorial, contact a congressperson, maintain and respect religious and cultural boundaries, and help homeless youth access school services will all be provided to all conference attendees.
Perhaps most importantly, I wrote grants to organizations such as Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless (OYH) and Headwaters Fund for Social Change in order to provide scholarships for people experiencing homelessness to participate in our conference and for other general conference costs. We have already received confirmation from OYH that they will provide us with the $5,000 dollars for which we applied!
Upon my departure from the Coalition, things for the conference were well underway. Plenary and Keynote speakers had been confirmed, about 75% of the conference workshop speakers were set, grant money was coming in, we were receiving a number of conference registrations, and unfinished logistical tasks were sufficiently distributed amongst other Coalition staff.
My experience working the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless was extremely valuable in that it provided me with a solid knowledge base of what the issues were that were creating homelessness in Minnesota, who was experiencing it, and what was and was not being done on both the state and federal levels. Because of the vast array of work the Coalition does: organizing people experiencing homelessness and community activists, planning events to bring awareness to the issues causing homelessness and potential solutions, developing curriculum for classrooms to educate youth on homelessness, lobbying at the capitol, and much more, I was given significant responsibilities in preparing the conference.
Through this experience I greatly improved my communication, researching, grant writing, organizational skills while augmenting my understanding of homelessness. I left the Coalition with a solid knowledge base of the policies that are helping and those that are hurting people experiencing homelessness. I am excited about the new perspectives and insights my experience at the Coalition provided.
One thing I lacked at the Coalition, however, was significant interaction with people experiencing homelessness. I worked in an office that at times felt somewhat distant from the people we were working to help. At times, I longed for interaction with the folks who were living on the streets so that I might be in meaningful relationship with them.
It is because of this desire, that I feel excited and eager to embrace every new day at my new full-time place of work, JOIN. JOIN is a non-profit organization that helps people experiencing homelessness to transition off the streets and into sustainable housing. JOIN also operates a daytime drop-in center, where people can have shower, get a locker or just a have a cup of coffee. Our drop-in center serves as one means for people experiencing homelessness to get connected with a JOIN outreach worker, after which, housing can hopefully be found for the individual or family who has been living outside.
Working at JOIN, allows me to befriend people who are experiencing the hardships of homelessness. It is in these relationships that I truly find a passion in working towards social justice and systemic change surrounding homelessness, an issue that I see as a culmination of a huge number of societal ills: individualism, racism, sexism, classism, etc. Prior to working at JOIN, I had little on which to base my understanding of homelessness and even less to go on to develop potential answers to the problem. Now, after just two weeks of working with direct service I know I have a better understanding of the issue than I ever have and feel more capable of asserting new means to addressing the issue’s root causes.
My experiences at the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless and at JOIN complement each other beautiful, one providing a legislative/policy based perspective and the other- a relational, experiential understanding. I think these two experiences together have provided me a solid basis on which to live and act in ways that will help to accompany people experiencing homelessness in creating systemic changes for one of societies most neglected populations.
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