News & Politics

Congresswoman Spends Night In a Shelter To Learn More About Homelessness

Bay area lawmaker does ground-level research on American poverty.

Photo Credit: Rep. Speier’s Congressional Facebook page

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) spent Friday night away from the comforts of her Bay Area home, instead sleeping in cramped quarters at a local homeless shelter to better understand what life is like on the margins.

Rather than just talking about inequality, the four-term California congresswoman wanted to learn first-hand the cruel experience of poverty. So she contacted the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City about staying there overnight (though only at a time when she wouldn’t be taking a bed at the expense of someone in need).

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Speier was up until the wee hours of the morning talking with guests and staff about their lives and the challenges they face. “One woman was working at Safeway, her spouse was working at OfficeMax, their son was working at jobs — and here they had to stay in the shelter to save up deposits to get an apartment,” Speier recounted after her visit.

Homelessness is a major issue across the nation, but especially in northern California. The Bay Area has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, despite (and in many ways because of) the influx of wealth with the tech boom. Late last year, seven homeless people living on the streets froze to death during a cold snap in the Bay Area.

Speier isn’t the only lawmaker making an effort to get a first-hand look at homelessness. Last year, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) spent a day of his winter vacation shadowing a homeless Connecticut man and California gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari (R) spent a night in a homeless shelter as well.

Speier thinks all of her colleagues could benefit from this emerging trend. “Every member of Congress should be required to do what I did,” the congresswoman said. “It would help us appreciate who we are talking about. We rattle off numbers, but it doesn’t speak about the people themselves.”

Scott Keyes is a researcher for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
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