Men's Swimming and Diving
First, can you give a brief explanation of what you were doing and how you found out about the opportunity? Is it related to your concentration?
This summer I worked for a nonprofit called Heartland Alliance, an organization in short dedicated to leading state and national policy efforts which target issues of homelessness, housing, jobs, and justice. I found this opportunity through the Center for Public Interest Careers through Harvard’s Mindich Fellowship. As a government concentrator with a secondary in global health and health policy, the work I did at Heartland Alliance was especially meaningful and gave me a lot of experience in the realm of how government really works particularly in the advocacy realm.
Where was your office/workspace located? Were you living in a new city/town for the summer? What was that like?
My office was located in the heart of Chicago more specifically in its financial district. Prior to this summer I had never been to Chicago or anywhere in the Midwest and was pleasantly surprised, by the city itself. I lived fairly close to the Heartland office as I only needed to walk a good 20 minutes each day and provided that the weather was nice (which it always was) it was a fairly easy walk.
Did you know beforehand that this type of legislation was being worked on? Was it something you sought out or were you interested in getting involved no matter what they were working on?
Prior to Heartland I did know that this type of legislation was being worked on, but my primary goal was to simply get a grasp on how government affairs/advocacy works from grassroots efforts to coalition building. I was fairly surprised by the myraid of functions that Heartland Alliance did from its lobbyist to its bill researchers.
Seems like a pretty complex endeavor, can you describe some of the challenges or the process of sorting out how to effectively implement certain policies?
One of my main challenges and tasks was solving the complex issues of incarceration in Chicago. There, and across the nation, it is very common for formerly incarcerated persons to leave prison and be faced with homelessness and lack of work. A lot of the time these individuals cannot get a job as they don’t have a means of housing and therefore are living life constantly in flux. My task as an intern was to help develop a bill they would not only solve the issue of homelessness, but incentivize landlords to want to house ex-felons. The additional, problem was that in many cases landlords do not want to house formerly incarcerated persons as they believe these individuals to be lazy, dangerous, prone to damaging property, or have other negative stereotypes (all of which were completely false as many studies have been done finding that ex-cons are one of the most loyal of tenants as they simply want to create a better life for themselves). In summary, my task was to not only solve a big problem facing their city and state as a whole, but to look at financial incentives and where I can pool resources to fund these incentives to give the often times ignored communities a better chance at life.
What was something that you were surprised by, either about creating legislation or about the realities of ex-convicts re-entering society and trying to provide basic needs, including housing?
I was very surprised by the sheer lack of understanding I had prior to interning, of the housing system in the US. A lot of the times laws developed such as the Fair Housing Act, while having the best of intentions still had many loopholes that effectively made the law as a whole meaningless. Furthermore, even in the present laws were being implemented with complex and confusing language that to the average person looked to be unassuming would target and displace millions of Americans.
What is something that is either not fully understood or misunderstood by the public as it relates to the projects you were working on?
A lot of crises faced by the US can be solved by giving formerly incarcerated persons a chance at work. Many parts of the nation are facing labor shortages, but has not tapped into the people it says “it wants to rehabilitate through prison." These people not only want to work, but can work. An additional point, is that people who are homeless want to work, but a lot of the time even if they don’t have a record they are missing the essential amenities that can enable them to simply survive let alone get by on a minimum wage.
What was the end result or where did you leave off in the process when your time ended?
In my final weeks as an intern I worked on a bill that was sent to the Illinois general assembly in hopes that it would be heard on the floor in the coming months.
Do you see this experience translating to your future?
The work I did this summer will directly translate to my future goals in government advocacy and government relations work. I gained a lot of knowledge in the realm of how lobbying really works, what decisions really go into making and writing bills, and the complexities of solving pressing issues that face Americans today.