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#TBT – National Union of the Homeless

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Blog, History

Art thanks to WRAP and artist Art Hazelwood

Art thanks to WRAP and artist Art Hazelwood

Modern homelessness, as we know it today, began in the 1970’s. During the Reagan Administration, affordable housing dollars were cut but almost 75%, leading directly to poor working families experiencing homelessness at alarming rates. Folks began to organize in the 1980’s, this was when our organization was formed. At the same time, a group called the National Union of the Homeless (NUH) developed out of the first resident-run shelter in Philadelphia.

Read more about the NUH:

“In the late 1970s and early 1980s the United States economy underwent a series of changes that led to a sharp rise in homelessness. Homelessness was no longer characterized by down and out individuals living on skid rows. For the first time in US history, families were increasingly becoming homeless, and the shelter system was created to house them.

Out of this common experience of dislocation and dispossession grew a national organization of homeless people that mobilized thousands throughout the US in the 1980s and 1990s. At its height, the National Union of the Homeless (NUH) had over 20 local chapters and 15,000 members in cities across the US.

Most importantly, it implemented a model of organizing involving the poor and homeless thinking for themselves, speaking for themselves, fighting for themselves and producing from their ranks capable and creative leaders. This was contrary to the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. Almost twenty years after the decline of the NUH, its history offers important lessons for building a movement to end poverty today, in the midst of continuing concentration of wealth among a few and expanding poverty for many.”
(Copied from The National Union of the Homeless: A Brief History, Published July 2011, https://homelessunion.wdfiles.com/local–files/curriculum/BriefHistoryPamphlet.pdf)

The NUH was active between 1985 and 1993. During this time, NUH mounted several campaigns, first aimed at overcoming stereotypes of who was homeless, then later focused on appropriating housing for its members. Their actions used slogans like “Homes and Jobs: Not Death in the Streets” and “Homeless Not Helpless.” They mounted civil disobedience like the Tompkins Square Tent City (detailed in Tent City Blues, an article in the Sept-Oct 1990 issue of Mother Jones), a national series of housing takeovers (watch in the documentary, The Takeover, from 1990), and the Union organized and participated in the Housing Now March along with the National Coalition for the Homeless and several others.

We encourage anyone reading this to learn more about where our collective work has come from by checking out the above links, and also visiting the Homeless Union History Project and the National Union of the Homeless Wikipideia page.

 

Again we ask, Welfare to What?

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Policy Advocacy, Poverty

Twenty years after “ending welfare as we know it” with the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the current administration issued an Executive Order on April 10, 2018 to Reduce Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.

While the Administration’s Order is more suggestion for Federal departments of government, the National Coalition for the Homeless [NCH] was strongly opposed to the 1996 law and is equally strongly opposed to the direction of the Executive Order, and any attempt to enforce work requirements on social benefits, including food assistance (SNAP) and Medicaid.

The reality is that the 1996 legislation and now the Executive Order goals language is code for reducing the welfare rolls even further by slicing benefits, imposing further work requirements and mandating further time limits on welfare programs.  It is clear that the direction of the Executive Order, and potential work requirements being considered for access to food assistance (SNAP) and Medicaid, is punitive and does nothing to promote self-sufficiency. At a time when our wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, the only direction of economic mobility for many will be downwards, in some cases leading to homelessness.

In 1998 NCH partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund to publish Welfare to What: Early Findings on Family Hardship and Well-BeingThe key findings include:

  • only a small fraction of welfare recipients’ new jobs pay above-poverty wages; most of the new jobs pay far below the poverty line;
  • many families who leave welfare are losing income and not finding steady jobs at all;
  • extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families;
  • many families leaving welfare report struggling to get food, shelter, or needed medical care; many are suffering even more hardships, including becoming homeless, than before;
  • many families are not getting the basic help they need [for example, child care, medical coverage, food or transportation] that might enable them to sustain work and care for their children on very low wages;
  • many families are denied cash assistance through little or no fault of their own; states often penalize families without assessing their ability to complete required activities.

Twenty years later, the 2018 Farm Bill with significant changes to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Food Stamps] proposed by House Agriculture Committee Chair Michael Conway is the testing ground for the broader direction of the 2018 Executive Order.

And, just as we said 20 years ago, the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein said in April 2018 that the proposed changes in SNAP would “end or reduce benefits for a substantial number of low-income people… and would widen the nation’s economic divides.”

Clearly the current administrations goal is to “leave no billionaire behind” while punishing low-income people.  We ask the same question of the Executive Order as we did 20 years ago: Welfare to What?

NCH does not believe the current false rhetoric of economic mobility and expanding opportunity.  We know better.  We know that the real direction of work requirements as welfare reform is punitive and the results will be increased poverty and homelessness for children and families, disproportionately impacting people of color, especially African-Americans and Native Americans.

NCH stands ready to partner with local, state and national organizations to demand the real direction of any reforms to welfare results in living wage employment and truly affordable and accessible housing.

-Bob Erlenbusch, NCH Board President
Executive Director, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness

 

Further reading:

Spring into Action

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Community Organizing, Criminalization

We have seen so many movements and actions since the 2016 elections – which means our communities want social and economic justice! We recently recorded a video of solidarity with the March for Our Lives and #NeverAgain campaign for gun reform. We are also partnering with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival on public actions working to fight the root causes of homelessness.

Here is what you can do this Spring:

Our Homes, Our Voices

We hope that you will join us in taking part in the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Our Homes Our Voices week of action, May 1-8, 2018. Learn more about the event, and how to get involved here.

Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

We also hope you will join us in joining the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This is a ground up movement being led by faith leaders and people who are struggling with an economic and social system that only benefits the most wealthy among us. The campaign has just launched its list of demands, which outline
how the evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism are persistent, pervasive, and perpetuated by a distorted moral narrative that must be challenged.
 The campaign states,
We must stop attention violence and see the human and economic costs of inequality. We believe that when decent people see the faces and facts that the Souls of Poor Folk Audit presents, they will be moved deeply in their conscience to change things. When confronted with the undeniable truth of unconscionable cruelty to our fellow human beings, we must join the ranks of those who are determined not to rest until justice and equality are a reality for all.
Mother’s Day, May 13th, will kick off 40 days of nonviolent action, and we encourage you and your network to join the campaign and take part in changing “not just the narrative, but who is narrating” our national political agenda.

Public Education

Finally, we know one of our biggest hurdles to housing all of our neighbors is public perception and prejudice against both people of color and poor people. To this end, we have created shareable documents that we encourage you to print and distribute: PUBLIC NOTICE for class action lawsuit - DHOL 2018
  1. A list of demands for the American Dispossessed: Created by Denver Homeless Out Loud in support of the Right to Rest and presented as a public notice, it is meant to be posted outdoors in places where our neighbors are forced to live in encampments or on public land. Click here to download

  2. State of Homelessness 2018: A brief (3 pages) overview of why we are seeing increased visible homelessness in our communities, covering everything from housing to HUD funding to criminalization. Click here to download

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