This is a first person account by Teresa German from NewBridge on her experience taking the bus to the Congressional Reception. If you would like to share your comments click here. _______________________________________________________
On July 11th 2007 over 100 individuals from New Jersey traveled to the US Capitol building to attend a private reception in hopes of obtaining an increase of $1.8 billion FY 2008 appropriation for HUD McKinney-Vento fund. This is my narrative account of what happened on that day…
The evening before emails were still swirling around getting New Jersayans excited about the venture each was about to participate in. The emails spoke to the purpose of the trip, ending homelessness in New Jersey, creating 15,000 new housing units and funding the current units, as well as providing services for these units. With each email the list of those attending expanded. Richard Brown, Executive Director of Monarch Housing rallied people for the cause by continually telling us that we were the first to advocate in such a way…. Early the next morning those of us attending gathered at three locations in NJ to board a Charter bus. Although it was early people were friendly, excited, talkative, and social.
After the third and final pickup a reverend [Rev. Stafford Miller, St. Phillip’s United Methodist Church, Paterson] was called to the front of the bus to give honor to “the spirit, Jesus Christ” that would sustain us in this cause & get us to DC and back safely.
Then we were on our way. Richard began to walk up and down the bus aisle talking to different people from various parts of New Jersey. I believe NewBridge Services was the only Morris County community service provider onboard. One could tell that everyone really wanted to be there. The group was also very diverse, people from various denominations there as organizations, former consumers, as well as members of social service groups from all over New Jersey. Individuals from several racial backgrounds were represented; all attended in harmony to end homelessness in NJ.
Our mixed group stood in front of the Capitol building awaiting the reception and listened to Richard Brown give us background information on the bill we were supporting, the historical facts of US government, etc. The mood continued to elevate as we entered the building five at a time through the security checkpoint. No one lost heart even after the long walk to the entrance or the extended wait we encountered at the last minute; there was a minor delay in starting the reception.
Once inside Richard began to welcome us, to reiterate our purpose in coming to the US Capitol, and introduced our first speaker. Other individuals joined us who traveled by car, train; others were in DC from the night before.
Our scheduled speakers were Alison Recca-Ryan, Director of Corporation for Supportive Housing, Richard Brown, Monarch Housing, three formerly homeless individuals, Karl Muehter, James M., and Stephanie B, and our hosts for the event Senator Robert Menendez & Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. What I personally believe made the reception so memorable was the flexibility within the agenda… As the reception went on various senators and Congressmen stopped by to speak to the need to address homelessness in the US, to give a brief synopsis of what they were currently voting on, their brief bios, & each, most importantly, spoke of their determination to see the funding increase to support ending homelessness around the nation. Surprisingly, most came from modest backgrounds and knew all too well how close they were during childhood to poverty and possible homelessness. The officials seemed genuinely concerned with the plight of the homeless in our country. Some gave statistics.
Some representatives were very late due to busy schedules. Others sent aides in their place. Still others ran in between meetings. Yet they all made adjustments for the greater good, which I felt was admirable. When all was said and done, we felt this was a great start in the fight to end homelessness in NJ and around the US.
Some memorable moments in that day included hearing that Congressman Ferguson was a teacher before he entered Congress. He tried to inspire his students to get involved and become doers….meanwhile he ended up being a change agent involved in creating public policy. He spoke passionately, saying that if we tolerate serious issues like homelessness it says a lot about us as a country… he said we must do more than curse the darkness but light a candle and pass it to others.
Senator Lautenberg received a standing ovation. He said he believes every child deserves a place to call their own. He also believes that it is not enough to just give housing but the support services attached with housing make all the difference. He set November as Homelessness Youth Awareness Month… a project he has been working on for some time.
Senator Bob Menendez spoke out against the war in Iraq. He mentioned how he grew up in a family of five in a one-bedroom apartment. He commended everyone on making the trip to DC to end Homelessness in NJ… noting there is power in numbers.
Someone got a call after the reception was dismissed from Congressman Andrews’ representatives…. He was on the other side of the building voting on an important issue … but he still wanted to come see us… He knew it was important that he come by to lend his support. When he arrived he was very apologetic… he also told us that he thought it was important to share the reason he was late. He was voting to ensure that future graduates who enter the social service/human service field receive LOAN FORGIVENESS. He was ensuring that we have people to work in this field and when they do they won’t become a new statistic due to overbearing loans after graduation. He also gave a great speech about the need to increase funding… his proposed plan to increase the funding… how people may say they support bills in meetings like ours but when it comes time to vote they don’t always put their vote where their mouth is. He said we should hold everyone accountable who came to the reception and said they would do all they can to end homelessness in NJ & with that we ended the reception.