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The musings of a Hunger Fellow

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Criminalization, Speakers' Bureau

Steph Whitaker has been with NCH for the past 5 months as the Bill Emerson Hunger Fellow. Her time here has been invaluable, taking the lead to pull together our Criminalization and Hate Crimes reports.
Below she reflects on her time in Washington…

As my time wraps up here at NCH, I realize that I’ve encountered many unique experiences. I’m not entirely sure where 3 out of my 5 months went… but I imagine that means they were well spent.

Top 5 things I’ll miss about NCH:

5. Speaking engagements with the Speakers Bureau: it’s really great to witness the “ah-ha” moment of others when they finally realize that homeless people are not just a stereotype. An added bonus is that its fun to get to know the speakers and their quirks.

4. Laid back atmosphere and entertaining co-workers: it’s easy to focus on your work when you don’t have to worry about office politics and whether or not your belt is accurately coordinated with your shoes… or in my case if your earrings are too big and loud. It always helps to have friendly banter and people you know you can go to for help when things get confusing. They also make great company for #3.

3. POTLUCKS! Must I really elaborate? These are the best goodbye anyone could get, going out with a party and pasta salad is far more exciting than a handshake and a fancy dinner.

2. Civil Rights: Working on the Criminalization Report (documenting all cases that make it illegal to be homeless) and the Hate Crimes Report (violent acts committed against homeless people for no logical reason) have really given me insight into the problems faced by homeless people every day.

1. Advocacy WITH homeless people: I think many social movements have a tendency to forget who they advocate for. When you lose track of the who, its easier to forget why, and even how to help. Its so much better with the words and advice from individuals who are or have experienced a problem.

Just as a wrap up, I plan to return to my home in Kentucky and hope to use my skills and experiences to educate others and advocate for change. My current plan of action is to return to school in the spring to work towards getting a M.A. in Public Health.

How I, President [ ____________ ] Ended Poverty

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, History, Poverty

I, President (_________–fill in the blank) of the U.S. and How I Ended Poverty.  A True Story of the Future.   (Part II)*

On Inauguration Day, I, President ___________ (fill in the blank) hereby proclaim that I will no longer accept homelessness and poverty in this rich country.

One in eight Americans lives in poverty and the numbers are rising.  Our political parties either cater to the rich or to the middle class, leaving the low-income population behind.

I, like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson before me, declare poverty to be one of the biggest issues facing America.  I will set benchmarks for eliminating poverty.  Let’s call it an adjustment of American priorities that will take place not in ten years, but in my first term in office.

To pay for this, we will end our legacy of imperialism, and use the money to address our new priorities here at home.

The First 24 Hours of My Presidency

After finishing my rather long Inaugural speech, I will return to the White House lawn where I will pitch a tent and live outside until we achieve the goal of ending poverty in America.

I’ll take along my cell phone and a laptop, so I can conduct the country’s business.  The First Lady/Spouse will join me as well.

Plans of Action:

The First 100 Days of My Presidency

I will forego my $400,000 annual salary and instead will be your President working at a minimum wage salary.  In other words, I will be making $7.00 an hour, as per the established federal minimum wage regulations.  Doing the math, if I work at least 40 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year, I will earn about $379,616 less than my predecessor.

I will not move back inside until every American is permanently housed.  I will then start to pay rent like any other American, 30% of my minimum wage salary.

I also will invite my closest neighbors, the homeless people living across the street in Lafayette Park, to stay in the various unused bedrooms in the White House in what can only be called the “best public housing in the country.”

Emergency/Immediate Measures

Homeless emergency shelters will still be around, but these places will function instead more like the emergency rooms of hospitals where you stay as long as you need to.  I will order every government building to stay open at night so they can function as emergency night shelters. 

I will ask churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to do the same.

Children, who make up 25% of the overall homeless population, will be the first ones to get help.  If not helped, these children are destined to become the homeless adults of the future.

All local/state/federal elected public officials shall be required to spend a week living on the streets in the largest city in their respective home states until every American is housed.  They will be offered the same benefit levels as the poorest among us with food stamps and the same health care offered to those on Medicaid/Medicare.  We will ask Congress to reduce the salary of every federal elected officeholder and those approved by the Congress for the federal executive branch to the same monthly salary received by those on Social Security disability.  A compromise could be to increase the disability payments to a more reasonable level that will allow many of these individuals to live without the fear of having to move into a shelter. This will keep the officeholders in touch with the 12.7%or almost 40 million Americans who live below the poverty line.

I will ask the U.S. Congress to pass federal legislation making it illegal for cities to adopt laws targeting homeless people for acts such as sleeping, camping, sitting, or panhandling. I am forced to do this, as no city is able to shelter all of its homeless citizens.

Every homeless person who so desires will receive a laptop computer donated by the computer companies so they can connect with the rest of the world and use the Internet to help them get out of their homelessness/low income status.

As our nation’s carmakers are struggling and sales are lagging, every homeless/low income person should get a free fuel-efficient car for either driving to work or living inside it.

Our nation’s coffee shops should give homeless/low income people a “daily fix” of one free cup of coffee.  All coffee shops will henceforth be designated as “homeless-friendly” businesses serving the public interest in exchange for their unreasonably high prices.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, will be unionized at the request/demand by their so-called “associates.”   Their employees will become full-time workers (40 hours a week), and they will finally receive health insurance. I will support the expansion of unions to represent all workers by reducing all corporate friendly barriers to union organizing.

Long-Term Solutions

I will restore the federal low income-housing budget to what it was back in 1979–$83 billion compared to $33.6 billion today.  I will work with the mayors of American cities to create a federal housing policy.

The countless abandoned buildings which plague our inner cities will be turned over to non-profit or municipalities who will provide the resources and training necessary to enable homeless/low income people to repair these homes.  This will be a 21st Century version of the Homestead Act of 1860.

Victims of domestic violence, a leading cause of homelessness among women, will no longer be forced to flee their homes, winding up on the streets or in shelters.   Rather, the victims will stay put in their own homes, and the batterers will be sent either to jail or to shelters designed just for them.

People released from prison will be guaranteed admission into halfway houses with appropriate employment and case management/counseling services.  This will put an end to the established practice of releasing prisoners to the streets without support, setting them up for failure. This same policy will hold for men and women graduating from mental health/alcohol treatment centers.

The minimum wage will henceforth be replaced by a universal living wage. 

A salary cap shall be placed on any one whose goal is to become a CEO or just rich.

New charters will be written for every corporation doing business in America so that their impact on the community would be factored into their bottom line.  So, the amount of pollution, layoffs, salaries that are too low requiring government assistance would be factored into their bottom line profit and loss statement for investors.

I will come up with a 21st Century version of the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) programs.   I got my inspiration for this approach from the words of the late President Ronald Reagan who said, “I think the best possible social program is a job.”

Health Insurance.   Free or low cost if you are homeless/low income.  Expensive if you happen to be rich.

For homeless/low income people with disabilities, I declare these citizens are entitled to treatment on demand for mental health and substance abuse issues.

Expensive residential treatment program catering to celebrities and sports players (e.g. Betty Ford Treatment Center in California) shall set aside 25% of their treatment beds for homeless/low income people at no cost.

As Commander-in-Chief, I make a commitment that any person who serves their country in our armed forces shall not be allowed to become homeless.

State and federal voting laws will be liberalized making it easier for homeless/low income people to vote.  No photo ID or mailing address may be required. I will establish a separate branch of government to oversee elections.  This branch will be independent and not subject to the political whims of current office holders.  I hope to open up the electoral process so that my successor in 2016 could be a homeless/low income person.  I would like to hear political parties talking about neglecting the rich and serving homeless people and low-income citizens in the future.  The only way that this will be done is if elections are not bought and sold by the corporate and privileged class.

Poor people will be exempt from all taxes.  When they break over the federal poverty guideline, then they pay taxes.

Attacking the Root Causes:

I will ask the U.S. Congress to adopt the right to housing like many other countries from around the world.

We will now promise every American the right to housing and health care even if they cannot afford it.

Welfare and food stamps will no longer be necessary, as every American will have a guaranteed annual income.

Since an education is the best way to break out of poverty, a two or four-year college education will now be free as young people are our future in exchange for national service.

The U.S. Congress will issue an apology for allowing poverty to exist/grow and for people to be trapped in poverty for so long in the richest nation in the world.

A new museum will be built along the Mall in the nation’s capital.  This “Museum on Poverty” will remind Americans how poverty remained unchecked in the last century and for the first ten years of this new one.  Poverty is something of our past, and not of the present or our future.

*Part I was published in June of 2007.  Lessons from a Candidate Who Sought to End Poverty *Read Part 1 of the article*

Michael Stoops is the Acting Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless (www.nationalhomeless.org).   The inspiration for this pledge/initiative to end poverty in America in the 21st Century comes from Upton Sinclair’s I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty.  A True Story of the Future.  1934.  We truly hope this will inspire/educate the candidates running for President of the U.S. in 2008.

 

 

Lessons from a Candidate Who Sought to End Poverty (Part I)

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

 

By Michael Stoops

Over forty years ago, in 1968 this country lost a great American, Upton Sinclair, who had a profound impact forwarding social justice in the United States. He first came to national attention with the book, The Jungle, published in 1906 which exposed unsafe practices of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. Not as well known was Upton Sinclair’s effort to be elected as a U.S. Senator and Governor of California. 

As a socialist, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat in California in 1922 and got 50,323 votes.  He ran for Governor in 1930 and got 50,480.  He described that as progress.

In 1934, he switched parties and became a Democrat.  He carried the Democratic primary with 436,000 votes, and winning by a margin of some 25,000 votes.

In the general election, Sinclair received twice the number of votes of any previous Democratic candidate for governor of California up to that point. Final vote:  Frank Merriam—1,138,620 Sinclair—879,537.  

He died in 1968.

Unlike most modern day candidates, he ran on a platform of ending poverty in California.

Similar to today’s visible homelessness, poverty and unemployment were at their peak during the early years of the Great Depression. Sinclair sought political office to stop the growth of poverty in one of the most difficult times in American history.

In his own words, Sinclair said,

“But I cannot enjoy the comforts of home, and the freedom of work and recreation which I have earned, while I know there are millions of others around me suffering for lack of common necessities.

Here are thousands of people wandering homeless, and thousands of homes which no one is allowed to occupy.  Here are a million people who want to work and are not allowed to work.
            
I say, positively and without qualification, we can end poverty in California.  I know exactly how to do it, and if you elect me Governor, with a Legislature to support me, I will put the job through—and I won’t take more than one or two or four years.

I say that there is no excuse for poverty in a civilized and wealthy State like ours.  I say that we can and should see to it that all men and women of our State who are willing to work should have work suited to their capacities, and should be paid a wage that will enable them to maintain a decent home and an American standard of living.

I say that every old person should be provided for in comfort, and likewise every orphaned child and every person who is sick or incapacitated.  I repeat that this can be done, and that I know how to do it.  If I take up the job, I will stick until it is finished, and there will be no delay and no shilly-shallying.  There will be action, and continuous action, until the last man, woman, and child has these fundamental economic rights.  Again, I say:  End Poverty in California.”

Later on Sinclair said that the slogan, “End Poverty in California”, really meant to him, “End Poverty in Civilization.”

His “End Poverty in California” (EPIC) had twelve basic principles.  Some of the more interesting/unique/prophetic ones included:

  • God created the natural wealth of the earth for the use of all men, not a few.
  • When some men live without working, other men are working without living.
  • The existence of luxury in the presence of poverty and destitution is contrary to good morals and sound public policy.
  • The cause of the trouble is that a small class has the wealth, while the rest have debts.

The first plank of his political platform was to give the unemployed productive work and make them self-supporting.

He also proposed exempting the poor from having to pay taxes.

“I proposed that all homes assessed at less than $3000 shall be exempt from taxation.  Anybody who lives in that poor a home in these times needs help and not taxing.  Homes from $3000 to $5000 pay a normal rate, and for each additional $5000 we add one-half of one per cent.  That means that if you live in a $100,000 home you will pay a tax of about 11%, and if you don’t care to pay that, the State will take over your mansion and turn it into a public institution for orphaned children, or for the aged, or for those who have acquired tuberculosis by slaving twelve hours a day in a department store or a restaurant kitchen,” said the candidate.

The Nexus of the Campaign

Sinclair offered a real choice to Californians.  He said, “In California of 1934 there could only be two parties, those who wished to abolish poverty, and those who wished to maintain it.”

“We say to the voters.  There are half a million persons in our state out of work.  They cannot be permitted to starve.  These persons can never again find work while the present system endures…..  There is no solution to this problem except to put these unemployed at productive labor….

Our opponents have told you that we cannot put this plan through.  Let me answer just this:  If you should give me a chance to end poverty in California, and I should fail to do it, life would mean nothing to me thereafter.

I say ‘abolish poverty.’ This is plain language that everybody can stand.”

A special effort was made to reach the churches.  Sinclair said:  “It is impossible for me to understand how any group of people organized in the name of Jesus can support the continuation of poverty, with all the degradation and misery it causes to the human race.”

Dirty Campaign Attacks on Sinclair

While his campaign resonated with poor Californians, he was opposed by influential enemies from major newspaper publishers to Hollywood studio owners.

Some of this was Sinclair’s own doing.

Recounting a visit to Washington, DC, Sinclair said, “I told Harry Hopkins in Washington that if I am elected half the unemployed of the United States will come to California, and he will have to make plans to take care of them.”

On another occasion he said, “If I am elected Governor, I expect one-half the unemployed in the United States will hop aboard the first freights to California”

This turned out to be the worst gaffe of his campaign.

His enemies did a “Bums Rush” news reel video showing hordes of transients jumping off freight trains in California.   This footage ran in movie theaters statewide.

Other billboards pictured an army of transients marching, marching, marching beneath the quote “I expect half the unemployed in the U.S. to flock to California if I am elected.”  DO YOU WANT THIS TO HAPPEN?

The Los Angeles Times ran editorials against Sinclair with headlines like, “Hordes of Jobless Swooping on State.”  The editorial calculated that ten million Americans were out of work, meaning that five million indigents would swamp the state once Sinclair took office.

“In other words,” the editorial observed, “Sinclair expects to end poverty in California by bringing in fifteen times as many poverty-stricken, jobless indigents as we already have!”

The former national Commander of the American Legion branded Sinclair’s plan a “grotesque fantasy.”

In a pre-election  satirical opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, a writer using a pseudonym wrote that Sinclair had won and spelled out the consequences of his winning.

He wrote of how all the “paupers and ne’er-do-wells” in  Florida were informed that Mr. Sinclair would keep his promises—work for all who wished to work—incomes for those who didn’t..” 

Post-election there was a “great Florida-to-California migration of dead-brokes and dead-beats.”

Florida then emptied its prisons and asylums.

Other governors joined in.  Forty-six other states copied the Florida measure, and in a short-time all the 12,000,000 unemployed and their families, together with all the convicts and all the insane of forty-seven states, had been hustled over the border into California.

These states then amended the Constitution making it illegal for poor people to travel from state to state therefore keeping all the poor contained inside of California.

Others poked fun at Sinclair by referring to EPIC as:  “Every Pauper Is Coming,”  “Easy Pickings in California,” “Everybody’s Poorhouse, Including Californians,” and “California, Here I Bum.”

One editorial cartoon showed two tramps reading about EPIC in an eastern newspaper and deciding to winter in California instead of Florida this year.

Even a song parody was written.

California, here we come!  Every beggar, every bum
From New York—and Jersey—down to Purdue—
By millions—we’re coming—so that we can live on you.
We hear that Sinclair’s got your State
That’s why we can hardly wait
Open up your Golden Gate
California, here we come!

Sinclair’s Legacy for the Upcoming 2008 Presidential Campaign

The campaign practices and public policy of Upton Sinclair should be inspirational to today’s candidates and lawmakers. Poverty in the US has reached devastatingly high levels and without decisive action from public officials, will continue with catastrophic results. Hopefully, the ideas and dreams of Mr. Sinclair can educate our politicians and allow them to use his own campaign to end poverty as a model in the ’08 presidential election.

*Read Part 2 of the article*


Sources: 

Sinclair, Upton.I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty. A True Story of the Future. Los Angeles. Upton Sinclair 1934
Sinclair, Upton. I, Candidate for Governor:  And How I Got Licked.Upton Sinclair. 1934
Mitchell, Greg.The Campaign of the Century:  Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics. New York.     Random House, 1992 
Mattson, Kevin. Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2006


Michael Stoops is the Acting Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

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