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For as long as I can recall, our nation has been stuck in a cyclical, destructive pattern wherein rapidly changing news cycles whip us from one story to the next by the hour, and sometimes even by the minute. Caught in this cycle, we become easily distracted from our country’s most pressing issues, thereby delaying social progress and obfuscating what Americans need in order to effectively engage in our democracy. As I become more engaged in the political sphere, my activism drives my awareness of our pressing issues. 

I am a 17-year-old legislative intern for the Jewish Center for Justice, and as I write this, I am wrapping up my first week in the “real world.” On my second day, I joined a group of JCJ interns and our fearless leader Rabbi Joel Simonds at a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s field deputy in City Hall. As our small talk gradually turned into official discussion, the representative asked each of the JCJ interns in the room to state the issue about which they are most passionate. Each of us each spoke about a crucial issue in the current political atmosphere, ranging from a woman’s right to choose to gun control to securing civil rights for all. To me, it seemed that the staffer appeared unimpressed by our “handle” on these salient issues. He noted that none of us mentioned homelessness, one of the more challenging issues facing Los Angeles at the moment, and which has reached the level of a local and national emergency. I doubt our failure to mention this is due to a lack of passion about the issue; quite possibly, it could be that homelessness has become far too normalized. The national media cycle, decreasing educational standards, and even our own privilege has caused us to be more attracted to the issues at the top of the political food chain. As a result, consciously or unconsciously, we ignore the crisis of homelessness in our cities and our country as a whole. 

Throughout our discussion with the representative, I learned that many significant issues can be remedied – at least in part – by solving the certain issues at their root, such as homelessness for instance. I don’t want to be misunderstood. It is unequivocally important to our nation that we solve every issue. However, we must also recognize our country’s unique situation. There are more issues to be solved than I have fingers and toes. “It is imperative we start on one issue and become an expert on it,” the representative recommended. Once we familiarize ourselves with the facts, we can move forward to solve it, then pivot to the next challenge. This message may seem uninspiring, but it is the only way the United States of America can experience true change. 

Los Angeles County has a homeless population of 59,000, according to the mayor’s field deputy. While I pray that we find a solution to the high rate of school shootings, we must also work as a country from the bottom up if we want to bear witness to true progress in our nation. By taking each problem one at a time, we can slowly but surely ensure that we are gaining ground towards our ultimate goal of a country where the rights of a person are never questioned because of their race, gender, sexuality, choices over their bodies, and in which our children are safe from the gun violence while at school. 

That is why the legislation floating around Congress which aims to end poverty must be prioritized. The Ending Homelessness Act of 2019 (H.R. 1856), introduced to Congress this past March by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, is a bill that truly changes the current conversation of homelessness in America. This bill, if passed, would appropriate $13.27 billion in mandatory emergency relief funding over five years to several essential housing programs and initiatives. For example, $5 billion to McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants would create 85,000 new permanent housing units. $2.5 billion to new Special Purpose Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) would provide an additional 300,000 housing vouchers to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. There are numerous initiatives in this bill, all of which would vastly improve the state of homelessness, which over half a million people experience every day in this country. 

As soon as we left our City Hall meeting, we began research on this bill that (it seems) no one is talking about. Since then, we have begun calling the offices of our nations’ representatives. We will continue to call them and let our representatives know what is necessary for progress and how critical this bill is to move our nation forward. Imagine what conversations about such issues would be like in this country if every American had a roof over their heads. We would be able to discuss these issues in a format that includes all voices, and therefore, achieve tangible progress that can improve the lives of all Americans. This is why the JCJ will not stop working for the far too large population of homeless in our country, and why we will continue to shift the conversation to serve those most in need.  

Sammy Hausman-Weiss is a summer legislative intern with the Jewish Center for Justice. Sammy will be a senior at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX this Fall.