Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has long been an impassioned advocate for society’s underserved members, but she recently realized that just "rattling" off figures wasn’t doing enough to help their plight.
That’s when she decided to get a firsthand look at the struggles some of her poorest constituents face by spending a night at a local homeless shelter, SFGate reported.
So, on Jan. 31, sans any handlers, Speier arrived at the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City, Calif., with coats to dole out and a willingness to learn about the shelter's residents.
The organization offers both emergency and transitional housing with clients typically staying between 120 to 150 days, Speier wrote on her Facebook page. The shelter has about 75 beds and the congresswoman said she made sure not to take a bed away from someone in need that night.
Speier stayed up past 1 a.m. talking to the shelter residents. She met a number of veterans, as well as parents who are employed but are struggling to save up to secure an apartment, according to SFGate.
"I had the privilege to listen to some of the residents share their life stories. They were complex, difficult, yet inspiring," Speier wrote on Facebook.
She said the experience reinforced for her just how much the country’s safety nets have deteriorated.
"I’m still kind of reeling from the experience. Every member of Congress should be required to do what I did," Speier told SFGate. "It would help us appreciate who we are talking about. We rattle off numbers, but it doesn’t speak about the people themselves."
Homelessness has become a glaring issue for San Francisco, which has one of the highest rates of people living without shelter. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s point-in-time count last year, the city had 7,008 people sleeping on the streets on a given night.
The issue is of particular concern right now as the area has been struck with a number of cold spells. In one week alone in December, four homeless people died from hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Associated Press reported.
But this isn’t the first time Speier has taken a grandstand in order to get her point across.
Back in September, when the House of Representatives voted to slash $40 billion in food stamp aid, Speier used lavish props to demonstrate what she viewed as a hypocritical move.
She stood before Congress wielding steak, a bottle of vodka and a jar of caviar to show how representatives burn through government money while depriving the poor of their basic needs.
Some representatives "travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business," she said at the time. "They dine at lavish restaurants eating steak, vodka and even caviar. They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals."
Speier was personally invested in the issue, as she had already had a brief taste of what it’s like to rely on food stamps.
In 2011, she took the "Food Stamp Challenge," spending just $4.50 a day on food for one week to get a sense of the obstacles poor people face.
"So many of us who live comfortably, we have no idea what it's like," she told the San Jose Mercury News of her decision to participate in that challenge.