Nine-year-old Elisa MacNair didn't need to be told why a busload of homeless advocates stopped in Salt Lake City Saturday on their way to Washington, D.C., for an Oct. 7 march on the Capitol.
Elisa, whose own family was homeless for four months at the beginning of the year, will be traveling to Washington next month along with her father and brother to participate in the demonstration.The Parkview Elementary School fourth-grader said she hopes her efforts and those of a hoped-for 10,000 children from all across the United States will help "get people off the street and into houses."
Elisa described her experience in the Salt Lake homeless shelter where the family lived between January and April as "scary, because people were bossing you around and you couldn't go certain places."
Asked why she believed the nation's leaders would listen to children, Elisa did not hesitate in her answer. "Because we deserve it," she said, her voice filled with a sense of dignity beyond her years.
Elisa and her brother, Jacob, 11, are two of the seven Utah children expected to join the National March for Housing Now. Some 20 Utah adults, including Elisa's father, Michael, are also planning to be there.
"I think the march is going to open up a few eyes," said Ella Westley, a specialist in the Utah State AFL-CIO community service liaison program. Westley said she will join other union leaders from around the country at the march.
Westley, who has worked with the homeless in Salt Lake City, said Elisa and the other children will likely make the biggest impact on Congress and President Bush.
"They only way to get the attention of these people is to have these children say, `Hey, look at me,' " Westley said. "There are just so many children falling between the cracks."
Saturday, a bus that left Los Angeles Thursday filled with marchers stopped outside the YWCA downtown for a brief press conference and a send-off from Utah homeless advocates.
Jeffery Baker, representing the Santa Barbara, Calif., Coalition for the Homeless, led the group in the chant, "What do we want? Housing now!" over and over.
Baker said the stop was made in Salt Lake City to rendezvous with Northern California marchers on the way to Denver. Other stops are planned in Kansas City; Louisville, Ky.; and several Pennsylvania communities, he said.
The march has been organized by the Housing Now! group, based in Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the need to restore funds for federal housing programs.
According to the group's literature, federal support for low-income housing programs has dropped 77 percent in the past eight years to less than $8 billion annually.