California Representative Jackie Speier wanted to learn more about the inequality that is plaguing our nation, so she started her education at entry level–by spending the night in the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City, CA.
Speier arranged to join the city’s homeless on a night that no bed would be taken from someone in need so that she could chat with those sleeping at the shelter and better understand their plight. “I’m still kind of reeling from the experience. Every member of Congress should be required to do what I did,” Speier said, “It would help us appreciate who we are talking about. We rattle off numbers, but it doesn’t speak about the people themselves.” Speier came alone, foregoing any security or staff presence, and brought along coats to donate.
The Congresswoman stayed up until early morning chatting with residents. Speier was touched by the stories she heard from those she encountered. “I met one man who spent three months in a park I used to play in growing up in South San Francisco, and then he spent one month in a bus shelter near my old elementary school,” Speier said. “He was sick. I met another man who was my age and had been in real estate for 30 years in the East Bay. He was a veteran — there were a lot of veterans there.”
Speier highlighted a much-ignored fact amongst politicians: There were a lot of working people with nowhere to go. “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 says that the unfair characterization of the homeless as lazy drunks is less fair and accurate now than it ever had been.“It was such a profound experience to realize that we have just allowed our safety net to fray to the extent that the people in poverty who are homeless are not all drunks on the street,” she remarked.