connect / 2019
LawMaker.io: Empowering Civilian Policy-Making for LA’s Homelessness Crisis
What does your organization do?
LawMaker is a free advocacy tool for Americans who don’t have a lobbyist in their corner. We help people crowdsource new laws, build voter coalitions, & engage politicians to advocate for change.
Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.
We created LawMaker to give everyday people the ability to turn their ideas into laws. Last year, one of our members did just that. Jamie Tijerina, a young research scientist, used LawMaker to propose an idea she felt could increase civic access for all LA residents. Jamie was interested in the decisions her government was making, but worked a 9-5 job and could never make it to City Hall to participate in hearings or speak to her elected officials. So she used LawMaker to propose this simple but important idea:
“One of the biggest ways to increase community involvement and transparency is to hold public meetings at times when the public is available to attend. This means that meetings should be scheduled and held at various times throughout the day, including times after 5pm.’’
Her idea proved important to many LawMaker users, and earned amendments and substantial support. Elected officials took notice, and on January 16, Council President Wesson and Council Member Ryu introduced Jamie’s policy as an official motion before the LA City Council (https://lawmaker.io/successes).
Jamie emailed our team with a confession—she had no idea her policy could actually make it to her politicians, and she needed some guidance now that it had. We told Jamie she needed to become her own lobbyist, engage council members and civic groups, and advocate that they call for a vote.
Jamie called for a meeting with Councilman Ryu and got a one-on-one sit-down. She was interviewed by the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates and explained why she felt many Angelenos don’t or can’t participate in civic life. She advocated for her policy among neighborhood councils and civic groups, resulting in the City receiving 32 letters of support for her motion, including official community impact statements — engagement unheard of for previous “scheduling” policies like hers.
And two weeks ago, Jamie launched her campaign for District 14 of the LA City Council!
Jamie had this power in her the entire time. But when our team sat down with her, she told us that seeing her ideas in an official policy motion proved to her that she could make a bigger impact than she had ever previously dreamed. This is exactly the impact LawMaker strives to make.
Which of the connect metrics will your submission impact?
- Government responsiveness to residents’ needs
- Participation in neighborhood councils
- Voting rates
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- City of Los Angeles
How will your project make LA the best place to connect?
Homelessness is the most pressing issue afflicting Los Angeles today. Over 57,000 people are without a home each night — 5,000 are children, and 4,000 are senior citizens. There is public consensus that something must be done, but a plurality of us has yet to agree on solutions, so little progress has been made. With the passage of Prop. HHH and Measure H to fund homeless housing and services, LA has an opportunity. How do we build the political will for tangible policies that lift the homeless, and Los Angeles, out of this crisis? Political will is entirely rooted in unity, consensus, and collaboration — in a word, connection.
LawMaker proposes building this connection with a 1-year public activation that brings LA residents, homelessness leaders, and elected officials together to answer one question: “What programs to help the homeless can you support in your neighborhood?” The public dialogue will focus on increasing awareness of key levers impacting homelessness and building support for tangible policies to help individuals and families off the streets.
LawMaker is an online platform, but not everyone has equal access to technology. To ensure broad participation, LawMaker will work with the City’s neighborhood councils to hold public events in each of LA’s city council districts. These meetings will be advertised well in advance, shared through LawMaker’s partners and the NCs, and will be streamed/transcribed online at LawMaker.io. In collaboration with the City, LawMaker will publicize these neighborhood council events as a way to truly connect and constructively discuss issues around homelessness.
To guide this public conversation toward a productive and tangible resolution, LawMaker will convene a Leadership Board of six elected officials, six leaders from the homeless service sector, and six civic leaders. This board will guide the various phases of the conversation and provide feedback to stakeholders at regular intervals. For example, problems identified in Phase 1’s open call for problem statements, will then be segmented by the Board into distinct verticals to be addressed in Phase 2, for example: affordable housing, homelessness prevention, mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, veterans programs, and safe parking zones. The elected officials and other board members will also be responsible for consolidating community feedback into draft proposals to help the homeless with programs distributed across the city. See the budget for an outline of the phased process.
The policies developed will be presented to LA residents for review and comment via public government meetings, neighborhood council meetings, and via the online voting/amendment platform at LawMaker.io. The public nature of these discussions, and the commitment made by the participating elected officials, are designed to build public support and pressure for concrete legislative action based on stakeholder input in the following legislative cycle.
In what stage of innovation is this project?
Lateral application (testing feasibility of a proven action/solution to a new issue or sector)
Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.
The LA Times quantifies the adversaries to homelessness solutions as a “small but vocal and implacable group of opponents.” It is not uncommon for a vocal and extreme minority to sway politics when the moderate majority doesn’t feel involved in the discussion or have easy avenues to participate. LawMaker aims to change this dynamic on the LA homelessness debate.
By providing a year of publicly posted community discussions, both online and offline, our activation will make it easier for Angelenos to weigh in on homeless issues that impact their neighborhoods. LawMaker will measure the success of this effort with two key metrics.
First, we will quantify how many people participate in the yearlong discussion. This will include how many people attend public meetings, propose solutions in person or online, comment or propose amendments, and upvote/downvote ideas on LawMaker. Each of these people will have participated in the civic discourse on solving homelessness in LA.
Our next success metric will focus on the results of this public discussion. Civic action should result in civic change. The success of this activation should measure that change by the housing and services created as a result of this process. A year after this activation, LawMaker will gauge the success of our endeavor by how many units of housing and dollars of services are proposed by elected officials to address homelessness in the LA area.