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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Homelessness and Politics

Some have criticized Neel Kashkari for his week on the streets.  But there are precedents.

In an emerging trend, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), a longtime advocate on Capitol Hill for issues like poverty and hunger, is the latest lawmaker to leave the comforts of his home and spend a night in a homeless shelter to better understand what it’s like to live at the margins of society.
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McGovern is the third member of Congress recently to spend an extended period of time with homeless people. In December, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) spent a vacation day shadowing a homeless man as he went about his day, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) spent the night in a shelter in February. Speier has since started a campaign calling on her colleagues to learn more firsthand about homelessness.
On February 6, Kevin Fagan reported at The San Francisco Chronicle:
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier is gearing up for what she hopes is the next big fight in Congress — balancing out the growing economic inequality that has ravaged the middle class for years — so she reckoned she’d do a bit of ground-level research first.
And since you can’t get much more ground level than a homeless shelter, that’s where she went last Friday — to spend the night.
The Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City was the destination. Speier had actually been there a week before to chat with the residents, and the fact that a well-off Hillsborough member of the Washington power structure was hanging out with the penniless was lost on nobody, least of all the member herself. That was the point, she said.
“I’m still kind of reeling from the experience. Every member of Congress should be required to do what I did,” Speier said this week. “It would help us appreciate who we are talking about. We rattle off numbers, but it doesn’t speak about the people themselves.”
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Neel Kashkari, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, has also slept in a homeless shelter – in Oakland – so Speier wasn’t the first one out of the blocks on this research approach.