A Sneak Peek into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part 3, The Intersection of Big Data & Politics


I am sitting in my cubicle. It’s hot. The air conditioner is on very low because certain un-named colleagues like to keep it that way. I bring a small fan to the office, positioning it right next to my face, setting it on high to take full advantage of its gift of cool air. Today it is the only thing that keeps me awake. It’s 1pm and I already have that “2:30pm” feeling. But I am lucky – I have a good task to match my afternoon drowsiness. My supervisor needs me to compile a list of zip codes that comprise each Massachusetts legislator’s district, in addition to researching how many participants of the state’s Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) program there were in each district in 2013. It’s a good task to have at the moment, because it only requires repetition by calling many numbers asking for the same information. The task is not as simple as conducting a quick google search; only the legislative offices have access to the precise zip codes of each district, and I need to dig deep into the computer system’s files before I discover a record of EAEDC participants. I spend the day calling approximately 50 offices. Most aides that I talk to can recite the zip codes off the top of their heads, but some put me in hold for 20 minutes (I enjoy the State House’s on-hold music so it wasn’t a bad experience by any means), a few scold me for wasting their time, and two offices could not identify which Boston zip codes their districts occupy. Such is life working in politics. I enjoy it.

I spend most of my day collecting this data. A lot of people would find this project to be menial and only that. But you’ve likely heard the following statement over-and-over again somewhere recently: we live in an era of big data. What makes this era so exciting, you ask? Put simply, we use data to make better, more impactful decisions. For this particular project, gathering these zip codes and piecing them together with the number of postcards we send to each district (postcards being a classic advocacy tool used to empower the public to communicate with their legislators). This information allows us to best choose which zip codes we need to dedicate more energy and resources to in order to enhance the likelihood that our policy campaigns are successful. This prospect may not seem all too exciting, especially when making call after call to gather data. But it is meaningful, and I do appreciate it.

I truly care about addressing homelessness. Facebook friends of mine may even have the perception that it is “my issue,” or “THE” issue that I am passionate about. I can’t blame them. But do not be fooled; I care very much for addressing sexual violence, ridding our culture of the patriarchy, eliminating white supremacy, pursuing environmental justice, etc., in addition to addressing homelessness. I want more. I want to address as many topics of injustice as I can. This is precisely why I have made it a career goal of mine to help progressive lawmakers get elected to office so that they can address the breadth of these issues. Not everyone gets to be the next President of the United States, or the next Governor of Massachusetts; not everyone gets to be the Executive Director of a nonprofit agency or the Chief Lobbyist; hard work is required of a support system to ensure that these positions are attained and are successful at what they seek to accomplish. I want to be a part of that process, and I want to take advantage of voter data to do it.

My internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless was great because I was given the opportunity to fulfill meaningful responsibilities while learning a ton about careers in advocacy, what it takes to organize a successful advocacy campaign, and how to manage relationships with lawmakers. As someone who has completed unrewarding and menial internships in the past, I recommend interning at the Coalition. It is the sort of organization where you can step right in and make as much of an impact as you choose to; where you can dedicate as much time as you wish and receive a commensurate amount of growth and learning in return. If I were to re-do my first few months at the Coalition, I would work more proactively on new projects and find ways to make an impact on my own instead of solely relying on the instructions from my supervisors. The truth is that they are too busy, as most internship supervisors likely are, to always be supervising. If you have the time, it may be beneficial for you to show initiative and work on a project of your own, in addition to working on what you are assigned, in order to gain the most out of your experience and maximize the support that you provide to the organization that you intern for. The Coalition offers the sort of welcoming environment that lends an ear to these projects and new ideas coming from interns. That is why I tout it so highly.

If you are interested in learning more about the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, careers in advocacy, topics of homelessness, or my own experience interning, please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail, shpilman@brandeis.edu.

Max Parish, ’16

A Sneak Peak Into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part 2

Enter the dog days of summer. Enter the hours spent bobbing and weaving around the Massachusetts State House, enter meetings with organizational endorsers of a campaign to increase state-funding for an important welfare program, enter beautiful walks through Cambridge and Somerville. Enter Sandman (*que Mariano Rivera’s entrance into the ballgame*). The midway point of my internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is here.

Night time view of the Massachusetts State House
Night time view of the Massachusetts State House

When I decided that I wanted to continue interning at Mass Coalition over the summer (I am fortunate enough to have been with the organization since this past January) I had a few goals in mind. I wanted to learn how to manage a successful policy campaign. Check. I wanted to learn what it takes to be a good community organizer. Check. I wanted to learn what life is like spending extended amounts of time at the State House. Check. Crossing these aspirations off my to-do list was incredibly rewarding. But there’s more.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the benefits I’ve reaped from living in Waltham over the summer. Specifically, interning so close to campus enabled quite a few valuable opportunities to present themselves. I won the opportunity to meet with Waltham’s State Representative Tom Stanley with the help of my mentor, Brandeis’ Director of Community Service Lucas Malo. Through this meeting I was introduced to a few consulting operatives who help manage local Massachusetts elections, and it was they who offered me an opportunity in the fall to do what I love and help create a database to identify the characteristics of the average voter that supports their clients. It is an exciting project and I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to work on it had I not been interning in proximity to Brandeis. Other benefits to remaining on campus over the summer include: taking professors out to lunch, seeking out Waltham’s hidden gems, teasing out ideas for a senior thesis with advisors, receiving ample support from Hiatt for truly anything that I need their assistance with, and taking the time to walk all the way from Waltham to Cambridge along the Charles River Reservoir Trail – something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to explore during the semester. Seeking experiences in other parts of the world and the country are valuable and important, but, simply put, life ain’t too shabby in Waltham over the summer. I mean it.

Charles River at night, with the Cambridge bike path on the left side of roadway
Charles River at night, with the Cambridge bike path on the left side of roadway

Aside from the traveling across the State that I pursue in my spare time, I do quite a bit for my internship too. Presently I’m visiting organizations that have endorsed the Coalition’s campaign to increase funding for EAEDC, a Massachusetts program that supports elders, children, and those who are disabled and are unable to afford their living expenses. Most organizations that have endorsed our campaign include nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state. I visited two of these organizations a few weeks ago; Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO) serves those who experience poverty in Lynn, and Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services provides stable living for the elderly. The purposes of these meetings are to educate organizations on exactly what the legislation would accomplish and how organizations can contribute to our campaign. Typically endorsers are willing to distribute postcards to be signed by colleagues and clients addressed to legislators, write a letter to the editor in support of the campaign, sign and distribute online convio-action letters, and in some cases, are willing to help the Coalition collect testimony to show legislators why what we are working on is so important.

Heading into these meetings, truth be told, I wasn’t confident about leading them. I wasn’t certain of what to talk about and when. I reached out to one of my supervisors and she agreed that I shadow her on one of these meetings prior to me leading a few on my own. The plan worked to perfection. As I watched my supervisor lead one meeting I figured out how to do the same; what stories to tell, what actions we want to focus on, and ironing out the details to follow up and ensure that progress be made. I walked away from this experience with an understanding of just how important it is to ask for help when needed. It certainly paid off.

The more time that I’ve spent at Mass Coalition the more I have discovered areas in which the organization could improve upon its resources available for the talented community organizers it employs. At the beginning of the summer I set a new goal for myself: create a new tool that will allow Mass Coalition staff to reach out to and solicit more participants for its policy campaigns. That tool came in the form of a database that I created which includes university-affiliated clubs in Massachusetts that address topics of homelessness, poverty, and justice. Not only will it allow the Coalition to garner more support for its campaigns and programs in the future, but it will hopefully inspire the leaders from these clubs to join forces and address homelessness together more cohesively. I look forward to speaking with my colleagues in the future about how they were able to use this tool to strengthen the policy campaigns that they work so hard on.

It’s been a rewarding summer so far. I’ve learned a lot about community organizing and how I see myself using the skills and experiences that I’ve gained throughout this internship in a professional setting. I love politics. Good politics requires good community organizing. I will, no doubt, use what I’ve learned to pursue a career in political consulting. Until that pursuit begins in full, however, feel free to reach out to me and ask me about my experience interning at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Until next time. – Max Parish

PS. One of my supervisors from Mass Coalition, Lois Ferraresso, will definitely be reading this blog. How do I know? Because it is her job to read every subject matter on the internet that includes “Mass Coalition” in its content. With this knowledge in mind, I want to thank you, Lois, for being a helpful supervisor but even more so a wonderful friend. I am so grateful to have you in the office to make me laugh, talk college hoops, and keep me awake when the air conditioner is set too high and my fan isn’t enough. Looking forward to creating more memories with you.

Max Parish, ’16

A Sneak Peak Into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part I

In 2014 there were approximately 20,000 people who, at one point or another, experienced homelessness in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are two avenues someone can pursue to help people who endure this condition; one is to provide them with direct services. The other avenue is to seek lasting change on the public policy level. The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, my internship site, pursues both.

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that advocates for those who experience homelessness, carries a mission of eradicating homelessness from the Commonwealth. In pursuit of this goal, the Coalition operates both Public Policy and Community Organizing Departments. These departments conduct policy campaigns to promote legislation that enfranchises those who endure homelessness. Located in Lynn, MA, the Coalition also operates a furniture bank in the same facility to assist those who were previously experiencing homelessness in acquiring furniture for their new residences. My focus as an intern is with the Public Policy and Community Organizing Departments. As a Legislative Intern, I research policy proposals, recruit organizations to endorse the Coalition’s policy campaigns, and encourage communities to write to their legislators in support of these campaigns.

Sr. Linda Bessom, Senior Community Organizer at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Sr. Linda Bessom, Senior Community Organizer at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

As a Coordinator of the Hunger and Homelessness Division of the Brandeis University Waltham Group, a student-led community service organization dedicated to connecting the student population with Waltham’s population of those who are homeless, I first learned of the Coalition’s work by researching local policy institutes with my peers as a part of an effort last year to incorporate advocacy into our club’s programming. Having begun the club’s official partnership with the Coalition this past fall, I familiarized myself with a few of the Advocacy Directors who are employed there. In January, as I thought about the importance of obtaining an internship for the second semester of my junior year, I knew exactly who to contact. Fast-forward 5 months and I continue to intern for an advocacy agency that has scored significant policy victories over the last several months, highlighted by the signing of House Bill 4517 into law, An Act promoting housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youths. With your help, we can ensure that the legislation will be adequately funded for the fiscal year of 2016 (FY’2016).

Kelly Turley - my supervisor - Director of Legislative Advocacy, Mass Coalition for the Homeless speaking at the 10th annual Forum on Family Homelessness sponsored by Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness & Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, at Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, MA
Kelly Turley – my supervisor – Director of Legislative Advocacy, Mass Coalition for the Homeless speaking at the 10th annual Forum on Family Homelessness sponsored by Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness & Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, at Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, MA

The Coalition is staffed by a very talented group of women who possess and display a worthy amount of humor in the workplace. I am fortunate to look up to a few of them as role models. My first week as an intern in January I found myself trading and discussing good books with a co-worker. Although much of the initial work that I performed in the office was limited to collating extensive amounts of policy fact sheets, I have graduated to completing much of the same work that my colleagues in the Advocacy Department perform, which includes researching and communicating with other organizations in Massachusetts that share a mission similar to that of the Coalition’s.

As I navigate my way through a jam-packed summer full of trips to the Massachusetts State House and extensive rides on the commuter rail, I hope to continue to gain valuable experience contributing to the Coalition’s current policy campaigns, including one present campaign to increase FY’16 funding for an important welfare program, EAEDC, that benefits elderly, disabled, and unaccompanied youth populations who are unable to adequately support themselves. Although I have only been with the Coalition for several months, it is very clear to me that these campaigns are crucial to the transformation of policies from proposals to state law. For this reason, interning for the Coalition has proven to be a fulfilling experience. Cheers to the next 2-and-a-half months!

Max Parish ’16’