In November 2020, we made three important decisions relating to systems advocacy at HAP. 

First, we decided we need to simply do more of it. While we have always had some involvement in advancing the causes important to our clients on a city, state, and federal level, these forward-thinking efforts admittedly took a back seat to our direct service. The unfortunate and unavoidable truth, however, is that there are far more people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia than our modest staff can serve individually, and the only way for us to have an impact on the general homeless population is through broader, forward-thinking systems advocacy. If we can change a policy here or a practice there, who knows how many cases we can prevent before they ever have a chance to arise.

Second, we decided that these advocacy efforts needed to be better coordinated from within, and therefore warranted a more formal internal structure. We named longtime HAP attorney Michael Taub our advocacy director, and formed an advocacy committee on which many of our staff sit and serve. So many of us are passionate about the issues affecting our people, and so we made sure to tap into that passion by giving a seat at the table to any HAPster who wants one.

Our third decision was to prioritize these efforts according to need as it’s felt in the community, and not just according to us. Among other disparities between HAP and the community we serve, we are much whiter, and so for example if we want to prioritize racial justice and equity among our advocacy objectives (we do) then those objectives need to be informed by that same community. We accordingly took efforts to form new relationships with social service providers and community members; all of our efforts since 2020 are responsive to what they had to say.

Here’s a few of those efforts.

HAP's Advocacy Initiatives

Housing Rights

Racial Justice

  • HAPster Tanya Rambert sits on the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) Racial Equity Committee, pushing for fair and equitable treatment in our shelter systems.
  • After the killing of Walter Wallace, HAP joined with many other organizations to advocate for an expansion of mobile crisis teams and a reduced reliance on police responses to behavioral health crises. Read HAP’s letter to City Council and Mayor Kenney requesting that the 2021-2022 budget allocate an additional $7 million for civilian-only, professional crisis response teams here.
  • Since the 2021-22 city budget passed with increased funding for both an expansion of the crisis response teams and new response teams that include both police and trained mental health professionals, HAP Social Worker Evan Dubchansky has remained active on the issue by attending city-run implementation meetings and continuing discussions with other organizations that favor the mobile crisis team model.

Public Health

  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, HAP has been a strong advocate for shelters to follow CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our clients. The 2020 Prevention Site, which placed older and more vulnerable individuals apart from the general shelter population, was a direct result of advocacy efforts HAP was front and center for, as well as efforts to keep them open well past proposed closing dates.
  • HAP is a member of the Shelter Vaccine Working Group, and remains a strong advocate for mobile vaccination clinic and the vaccination ambassador program.

Veterans Affairs

  • In 2020, HAP submitted regulatory comments to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in response to VA’s proposed new rules regarding eligibility for benefits for veterans with Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges.  Many of these veterans were discharged with an OTH discharge due to minor disciplinary infractions after returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are not eligible for VA benefits.  Many suffer from combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other forms of service-related mental illness.  In October 2021, prior to publishing the new rule, VA requested oral testimony on several specific questions from veterans advocates across the country.