The 2023 Legislative Session is in full swing, so we asked Lorna Schmidt, Catholic Charities’ Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, to answer some of our most frequently asked questions on the subject:
Q: What exactly do you mean by “advocacy”?
A: When we talk about “advocacy”, we’re talking about communicating about issues you care about with those in positions of power.
Each Legislative Session, Catholic Charities engages in nonpartisan advocacy—as one of the leading social services providers in the Twin Cities region, we are at the Minnesota Capitol to educate lawmakers about issues that affect our operations and the people that we serve.
Q: Why is advocacy a core part of Catholic Charities’ mission?
A: Our advocacy recognizes that there are many factors that influence a person’s housing stability—including policies that exist at the local, state, and federal levels. If we truly want to support the people that we serve, we need to:
• change the systems that contributed to them experiencing homelessness in the first place;
• increase public investment in our shared safety net; and
• strengthen policies that create opportunities for people to thrive.
Q: What if I’m not interested in partisan politics?
A: A lot of people hear “advocacy” and they think it’s the same as “partisan politics”. They are not the same thing. Advocacy is inherently political, but not necessarily partisan.
Advocacy is helping people understand your point of view on an issue—having conversations with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents (regardless of whether they agree with you or not) to try to come to some shared understanding and a path forward.
Q: What is the primary focus of Catholic Charities’ advocacy?
A: Our advocacy is really centered on the idea that housing is a basic human right—it’s foundational to everything that a person needs to thrive in their community, from education to holding employment to managing their health.
When we think about our legislative agenda, we are looking for strategies to address the needs we are seeing in our programs—this year, that means advocating for issues like the Housing Support reform bill.
Q: Why is Housing Support reform a priority this year?
A: Minnesota’s Housing Support program helps low-income seniors and adults with disabilities attain and maintain stable housing. This program is one of the state’s best tools to prevent and end homelessness, but it doesn’t work for everybody as well as it should. We are looking at some basic reforms to the way this program is structured so that we can create more pathways to housing stability and financial independence.
Q: Why is the current Housing Support program not working for everyone?
A: Our systems have been missing the voices of people who are seeking services and support. Instead, they were set up by people who thought they knew what people needed without always directly asking them.
We are trying to correct that problem with our Housing Support bill. People with lived expertise and Catholic Charities staff have asked us to advocate for reforms that will help people keep more of their own money each month—currently, many people are required to surrender most of their income (such as Social Security or Veterans benefits) to use the Housing Support program. While a place to live is certainly important, housing stability requires that people can meet their other needs as well—like transportation, a phone and clothing.
People have told us, “I want the support, I know I need stable supportive housing, but I can’t live off $111 every month. I will have more housing stability, I will be more financially independent, if you simply help me keep more of my income.”
Q: Why do reforms like these make financial sense for Minnesota?
A: It is more affordable to keep somebody stably housed than it is to support them while they are experiencing a homelessness crisis. Additionally, when you look at the impacts that stable housing has on things like employment, education, or healthcare, it is one of the best and most affordable prevention strategies that we have towards building a thriving community.
Q: Where else do you see opportunities for smart investments this year?
A: People look at Catholic Charities and the facilities that we operate and assume that we are fully publicly funded—and that is not the case. Less than 5% of our daytime emergency service operations—the safety net, these unique programs in the community—are publicly funded. The reality is that nonprofit partners have been shouldering the financial burden of creating our safety net for far too long.
The past few years, we have been operating in crisis mode much like the people that we are serving. When you don’t have stable funding to plan and maintain the staffing that you need to provide these critical services, it is hard to do more than meet the immediate survival needs of the people that are coming through our doors. We need to be able to provide more of the wrap around services, to be able to do more to help people not just survive, but thrive. And the private sector cannot do that on its own. We need significant public support if we’re really going to disrupt the trends here, if we’re really going to help people find stable housing.
We’re advocating for increased state investments to the Emergency Services Grant Program (ESP) and Homeless Youth Act (HYA) as proposed in House File 444, to help stabilize our state’s emergency shelter system and scale services to better respond to Minnesota’s homelessness crisis.
SO WHAT CAN COMMUNITY MEMBERS DO TO HELP?
1. Sign up for Action Alerts: Lawmakers respond when their constituents reach out about an issue—and the more people they hear from, the more likely it is that they will prioritize that issue. Our Action Alerts automatically match you with your elected officials, notify you when your voice is needed, and you can let them know you care with a single click!
Community Engagement & Partnerships Manager