How to Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit

How to Take Action:
An Advocacy Toolkit
A Call to Action
One in every 45 children in the U.S. is homeless each year. Half of these children are under
age six. With poverty levels the highest in a decade, families have become the fastest-growing
segment of the homeless population. Poverty, lack of affordable housing, and lack of economic mobility all contribute to this growing problem.
And, it is young children who are most effected. The stress and trauma of homelessness is
emotionally and cognitively damaging to them and costly to their communities.
Homeless children are two times more likely to have learning disabilities and eight times
more likely to be asked to repeat a grade. Every dollar we spend on early education for
homeless children saves approximately $10 dollars later.
As individuals, we can impact the lives of homeless children. Together, we can advocate for
policies that break the cycle of homelessness. Together, we can create change.
You can make a difference.
We have assembled this toolkit as a resource to help you make an impact in your
Thank you for taking the first step and
helping homeless children across
Yo ur Vo ic
Makes a
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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About Us
Horizons for Homeless Children is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the
lives of young homeless children in Massachusetts by ensuring that they are
prepared for school success.
We provide high-quality early education, opportunities for play, and comprehensive family support services. We serve 3,000 homeless children each week
through our early education centers, our shelter-based Playspaces, and our
Family Partnership Program.
We are the only organization in Massachusetts focused exclusively on the
Table of Contents
Getting Started............................................................3
Learn about the Issue
Take Action Online
How To Talk to Legislators.......................................4
Write or Call Your Legislators
Visit Your Legislators
Attend a Town Hall Meeting....................................5
How to Make News....................................................6
Write a Letter to the Editor
Write an OpEd
How to Involve Others...............................................7
Host a House Party
Report Your Advocacy: Contact Horizons ..........8
Advocacy Resources..................................................9
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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Getting Started
Learn About the Issue
Go to to learn about
family homelessness and watch stories about
how high-quality early education and family
support services are making a difference in the
lives of homeless children and their families.
Take Action Online
Sign Up for Our Online Community
By joining our online community, you will
receive newsletters and email alerts. Go to and sign up at the
top of the page.
Send an Online Message to Legislators
Sending an Online Message to Legislators is
a quick way to take action. In less than three minutes, you can send a pre-written message
to state and federal legislators about a variety
of issues and proposed policies that impact
children and families experiencing
Go to
Click on any of the Action Alerts displayed.
This will lead you to a message that you can
personalize and send to your legislator with
just a few clicks.
Join our Social Network
Follow us on Twitter at: @HHCTweets.
Or, like us on Facebook at
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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How to Talk to your Legislators
Write or Call Your Legislators
Visit Your Legislators
Sometimes it really does just take one letter,
or call to gain a legislator’s support. We have
seen state legislators sign on to co-sponsor
legislation after one volunteer from their district
shared their personal perspective.
There is also power in numbers. By educating
community members about issues and
encouraging them to reach out, you can move
policy. Your legislators and their staff count
on you to find out what’s important in your
Your State Senator and State Representative
each have a district office in your community.
They also have offices at the State House in Boston. Bringing a small group of individuals committed to an issue to a legislator’s office can be very
powerful. You can call their office
directly to set up a time or reach out to
Horizons for help scheduling a meeting.
1. Choose a method. Write a letter or call.
2. Identify your legislators. Go to Type in your home
address and you’ll be directed to
contact info for your State Representative,
State Senator, U.S. Congressman and U.S.
Senators as well as other elected officials.
3. Make contact. We have a draft letter and
phone script in the Resources Section (pages 9 and 10) of this Toolkit that you can use
as a starting point. Feel free to make them
Your U.S. Senator and Congressman also have
offices in Massachusetts. Horizons would be
happy to help facilitate these meetings if a group
is interested. Legislators will want to hear stories
about children experiencing
homelessness, understand what the programs in
your home district look like, and hear how they
can help (specific legislation they can
support, specific programs they can fund).
Let us know about your visit and how we can help
with follow-up!
Email [email protected] and
tell us you took action! (details on pg. 8)
If you call, the person on the phone in the
legislator’s office will be accustomed to taking
notes about what you say to pass along to the
legislator. Mention specific actions; Legislators
want to know how to help. What bill should they
sign onto? What policy is ineffectively serving
homeless children? provides timely content you can use in a call like this.
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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Attend a Town Hall Meeting
Attend a Town Hall Meeting
Every city and town in Massachusetts hosts
regular public meetings. Whether they’re called
town meetings, town halls, city council meetings,
or public forums, they are all a great place for you
to pose a thoughtful question and put child homelessness on the radar of local decision makers.
1. Check out our online listing of ‘Public Forums
& Town Hall Meetings’ at We’ve compiled a list of what these meetings are called
and when they take place.
2. A
ttend! Sometimes there will be a sign in list
for community members who want to make
comments. If there’s a staff member off to the
side, ask about a public comment period.
3. T
ake the mic! When the allotted time
comes, introduce yourself and ask a thoughtful
question. Here is a sample:
My name is Jane Smith and I live in [My
Town]. I’m very concerned about the growing
issue of child homelessness in our community
and across Massachusetts. What is our town
(or this council) doing to address the issue?
Are we working with our elected officials at
the State House to share our city/town’s
perspective about the issue?
• 1
in 45 children in the U.S. will experience
homelessness each year
• F
amilies make up 40% of the homeless
population and are the fastest growing
• In Massachusetts, child homelessness can
be virtually invisible, many children are
living doubled up with relatives or living in
• E
very school system in the state of
Massachusetts reports that there are homeless children in their district (and
the numbers are growing)
5. B
e sure to thank the group for the opportunity
to speak and ask about how you can follow
up. Who’s the best contact from the Council/
group to speak to going forward about the issue?
Email [email protected] and
tell us you took action! (Details on pg. 8)
4. T
he council/group may have an answer,
may be unfamiliar with the issue, or may want
more background. If they’re looking for
context/stats, here are a few that you can
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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How to Make News
Write a Letter to the Editor
Write an OpEd
Your local newspaper can be a great way to
generate dialog and awareness in your
community. When you share your views, you are
educating thousands of people about child homelessness.
Like the Letter to the Editor, the OpEd appears
on the opinion page. The OpEd is an article that
expresses an individual’s point of view.
The opinion page is a widely read page in every
paper. Letters to the Editor allow you to
express your opinion publically. Here are some
guidelines for writing and submitting letters to
your local paper:
1. Understand the letter submission guidelines
of your specific paper. They can generally be
found online or on the opinion page.
2. Be timely. Letters that comment on recent
articles are more likely to be published.
3. Be brief, organized, and factual. Generally, letters should be no more than 200 words. Every
letter should address the issue, include a clear
statement of position, present a personal
insight, suggest the number of those that support the issues, and include a clear call to action. Try to keep the letter positive and be sure
that you have checked your facts.
1. U
nderstand the letter submission guidelines
of your specific paper. They can generally be
found online or on the opinion page.
2. B
e brief, organized, and factual. Generally,
OpEds are 700-750 words and follow a clear
a. The problem
b. The solution
c. The call to action
Use simple declarative statements and be
sure to fact check your article.
3. C
all to follow up. After you submit your OpEd,
be sure to call and follow up. You want to
make sure your OpEd was received and ask if
it will be published.
Email [email protected] and
tell us you took action! (details on pg. 8)
4. C
all to follow up. After you submit your letter, be
sure to call and follow up. You want to make
sure your letter was received and ask when it
will be published.
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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How to Involve Others
Host a House Party
Policy change starts with awareness and
awareness starts with conversation. One of the
most vital actions we can take to
better serve homeless children is to increase
awareness about the barriers they face. As
awareness in our own communities increases, so
does awareness across the Commonwealth.
1. A
ssemble a small group of friends, neighbors,
colleagues, or family and invite them to your
home or a common space.
2. Set expectations for the evening: ‘We’re
all members of this community, child
homelessness is an issue that I’ve learned
about (if you’ve volunteered in a shelter or
in the Horizons’ Playspace Program you might
want to mention that) and I think it’s really
important so I really appreciate the chance to
talk about it with all of you. We don’t all have
to be on the same page, I know we’ll all see
the issue from different angles, I’m just hoping
that tonight will start the conversation and we
can start thinking about how we can have an
3. Show our short video to introduce the
issue of child homelessness. Please visit
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
4. P
ose a few questions to the group to guide the
discussion. Here are a few suggestions:
a. F
amily homelessness can be a really
invisible issue, have you seen signs of it
in our community?
b. B
efore today, were you aware that child
homelessness was such a large issue in
c. W
hat do we know about supporting young
children who need our help? What do you
think are some of the greatest barriers
homeless children face?
Or, use a few facts to generate discussion.
A list of current facts on family homelessness
can be found at
5. A
s a group, decide on an action plan. Having each person write a letter to their legislator is often a good way to end a house party.
Our Horizons’ staff would love to hear about
your house party and provide additional resources
(like the ones found here) to help you create
awareness about the issue in your local
Email [email protected] and
tell us you took action! (details on pg. 8)
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Report Your Advocacy:
Contact Horizons
We know you’re doing amazing work across the
state on behalf of homeless children – but
we don’t know the details! Keep us in the loop so
we can better support you, share ideas, and learn
from your feedback!
Each time you take an ACTION (either one
described in the packet or one you came up
with yourself) send us a quick email with the
following info:
• Short description of the action
• Date
• City/Town
• Who was involved?
• Any next steps?
• A
ny additional resources we can provide
to support actions like this?
Email [email protected] and
tell us you took action! Or, if you prefer, give
us a call at 617-553-5430, we’d be happy to
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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Advocacy Resources
A phone call is an effective way to contact your
elected officials about a particular bill, law, or
upcoming vote. Our online advocacy center and
linked action alerts are a great place to start
for content:
Those alerts highlight timely, specific issues. You
can also review our ‘Legislative Priorities List’ to
familiarize yourself with pending legislation that
will better serve young children experiencing
homelessness across Massachusetts and across
the U.S.
The most effective phone calls are those that
focus on one specific issue and underscore
what you want the legislator to do: co-sponsor,
support, vote in favor of, or vote against.
Phone Script
Hi my name is _______. I live in the [Senator/
Representative/Congressman’s] district. I’m
calling to express my support for [bill number
or other specific ask].
Staff member may ask for the spelling of your
name or your address.
This bill will help children in our district who need
our support. I am a [volunteer/coach/ parent/
teacher/etc.] and I know how critical it is to ensure that families have access to [childcare/education/workforce support/other service].
Staff member will usually affirm that he or she is
taking notes to pass along to the elected official.
What’s the [Senator/Representative/
Congressman’s] position on this bill/issue?
Staff member may provide a firm answer or let
you know that the elected official is still gathering
information and working to make a decision.
Thanks for your time. Please tell the [Senator/
Representative/Congressman] that we really
need her/his support and our district is counting
on her/him to take the lead on this issue!
How To Take Action: An Advocacy Toolkit
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Advocacy Resources
A letter is an effective way to contact your elected offi-
cials about a particular bill, law, or upcoming vote.
The most effective letters are those that focus on
one specific issue and underscore what you want
the legislator to do: co-sponsor, support, vote in
favor of, or vote against.
Letter/Email Template
Dear [Congressman/Senator/Representative],
Thank you for your continued commitment
to ending child and family homelessness.
[Personalize your message]
I currently volunteer through Horizons for
Homeless Children’s Playspace Program. In this
capacity, I spend 2 hours each week working with
children living in shelter…
[Mention a specific piece of policy, bill, area of interest, etc.]
I cannot stress enough that we need support from
across government agencies to break the cycle of
family homelessness. I urge you to support and fund
childcare and early education programs that support
low income and homeless children. While putting families in stable housing is critically important, homelessness is not just about housing. The workforce
support that child care provides is a necessary component in a homeless family’s path to stabilization.
Furthermore, children experiencing homelessness
need quality early education to help them keep pace
with their housed peers and enter the public school
system ready to learn.
Thank you for your work. Please continue to
support children and families experiencing homelessness.
[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]
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