McGovern: Here’s Why I Stayed at a Homeless Shelter
Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) spoke on the House floor today about his recent overnight stay at the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) of Greater Worcester, a local homeless shelter. This was Congressman McGovern’s second time staying at the shelter and part of his ongoing efforts to raise awareness about homelessness and increase support for efforts to reduce it in Massachusetts and across the country.
Full text of Congressman McGovern’s speech is below:
“Last week during our district work period, I spent the night at the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a family homeless shelter in Worcester, Massachusetts. This was my second time spending a night there in recent years. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear firsthand the stories of families who are facing tough times and to see the incredible support provided by groups like IHN.
“In today’s media environment where every development in the presidential campaign gets a breaking news banner, it’s easy to lose sight of the real issues impacting real families and homelessness is one of them. In 2015, more than 500,000 Americans were homeless on any given night. Of that number, more than 200,000 were people in families and nearly 50,000 were veterans.
“Even in Massachusetts, one of the richest states in the nation, homelessness continues to be a challenge in many of our communities. In recent years, state budget cuts have led to a record number of homeless children in Massachusetts and the overall uptick in homelessness has led to overcrowding in shelters with thousands of families being turned away.
“In the richest country on the planet, it is simply astonishing that anyone is homeless, but the fact is this continues to be a persistent problem. Fortunately, there are amazing organizations like the Interfaith Hospitality Network that are making a difference.
“IHN works in partnership with the faith community to provide shelter and assistance to families with children who are homeless. Their primary goals are to assist families in increasing their income and to help them secure permanent housing, while providing the critical support services necessary for them to succeed.
“It’s a ‘community bed shelter’ that provides private bedrooms and shared living areas for six families at a time who are homeless but don’t qualify for state-funded shelters.
“One of the points that the people I met made very eloquently was that sometimes life is very complicated and sometimes things don’t work out as you expect them to.
“Many of the families that I met during my stay included at least one working parent. But they had fallen into the gap where they earned too little to make ends meet but too much to qualify for other housing assistance programs.
“Some of the residents included college-educated parents with families that fell on hard times - maybe a parent is sick or a child’s sick, or a parent got laid off from a job. Those families are not there because they made poor choices; there were a series of events that led to this. One thing parents at the shelter have in common is that they love their kids more than anything and are working tirelessly to get back on their feet.
“The families at IHN are not charged rent and work with a caseworker to budget and save money for their own apartments. The caseworker also helps families access necessary health care or counseling, learn job skills, enroll in job training or educational classes, and assists them with other life issues.
“IHN is a very special place. It’s a home. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Families prepare and eat dinner together. Children do their homework together, color in coloring books, and play games. IHN provides a sense of normalcy during times of turmoil and uncertainty for families.
“With each visit to the IHN shelter in Worcester, I am inspired to see that within our community, there are so many wonderful people who care about their neighbors who are going through difficult times and who want to get back on their feet. The volunteers and staff are incredible people. Places like IHN represent the best of our community and there is a real need for places like this.
“Too often in this chamber, I have heard colleagues demonize and disparage America’s poorest families. But those who are homeless don’t fit into a stereotype. Every family faces different challenges. It’s hard work to be poor in America and the families I met are working hard for a better life for their kids. We should be helping them get back on their feet, not kicking them while they’re down, and certainly, we should not be indifferent to their struggles.
“To help more of these families get ahead, we must do more at the national level to strengthen the social safety net to better address homelessness, food insecurity, and poverty and many other issues which deserve to be front and center.
“Looking at the big picture, we need to be talking about how we can make sure that work pays enough so that all working families can afford rent and place to live, and be able to put food on the table for their kids. We might start by increasing, at long last, the federal minimum wage so that it’s a livable wage. If you work in this country, you ought not to be poor and you ought certainly not to be homeless.
“In the richest country on the planet, I know we can solve homelessness. Spending a night at a homeless shelter is an incredible experience and I encourage more of my colleagues to do the same in their districts.
“Those of us who serve in Congress are blessed that we don’t have to worry if we’ll have a roof over our heads on any given night. But there are many families, too many families, in this country who do. We need to do a better job of listening to their stories and lending a helping hand so they can get out of their difficult situations and move on to a better life.
“I urge my colleagues to listen what I said today and do what I did and spend a night at a homeless shelter in their district.”