In mid-2011, when I was still relatively new to the Alliance and DC, I started reaching out to partner agencies in an effort to form a group that would work behind the scenes, advocating policies to end veteran homelessness. It took a bit of cajoling to get people to join, as there is a perception out there that groups like these can be ineffective or too political for their own good.
Being a wide-eyed newbie to the national advocacy scene, I was, of course, undeterred.
This week marks the one year anniversary of that group, the Homeless Veterans National Advocacy Working Group* (HVNAWG). Happy one year anniversary HVNAWG! It is a long name for a really cool group. (A little disclaimer here – for a variety of political and bureaucratic reason, we remain an “unofficial” group.)
We began relatively small, just seven core representatives from veteran service organizations, national advocacy groups, and a local organization active in national advocacy, but over the last 12 months we have expanded the reach and membership and accomplished a lot. One of our proudest achievements was a well-attended and highly informative congressional briefing we put together several months back.
The value of this working group cannot be overstated. It allows national leaders on ending veteran homelessness to work together and share the expertise of their respective organizations. The diversity of the members’ perspectives, which overlap and complement each other, allow us to tackle policy issues from a variety of angles.
It can be challenging to sit down at the table with members of organizations who may not see eye-to-eye on all issues because of conflicting focus areas or priorities. Organizations may also be rivals or competitors for the same audience or funding streams. This tension can lend itself to a little conflict at times.
But these different philosophical and political viewpoints make for lively discussions and a hearty exchange of knowledge. And we are bound together by our common goal: ending veteran homelessness.
Since its humble beginnings, our group has fielded numerous requests to endorse legislation, weighed in on policy questions, and made congressional allies. While the informal nature of our group keeps us from “officially” backing policy, regulations, or other legislation, we are able to refer to our parent organizations for endorsement of legislation or other official correspondence.
Although we are unofficial, the amount of influence we leverage is impressive. When we agree as a group on policy priorities, we can then align our organizations behind similar messaging. This strategy has had a direct effect on policymakers.
Moving forward, the group will continue to share knowledge and resources, inform policymakers through briefings and educational meetings, and collectively move the ball closer to the goal of ending veteran homelessness once and for all.
We work with far too many individuals and organizations to thank personally in this blog post, but you know who you are. Thank you for your willingness to set aside differences and work together for a common goal. Your hard work and sacrifice have made a difference. Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do in moving forward.
* Current members of the homeless veterans working group are:
American Bar Association
Community Council for the Homeless of Friendship Place
Corporation for Supportive Housing
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
National League of Cities
National Low Income Housing Coalition
Veterans for Common Sense
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Vietnam Veterans of America