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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.

 

#ThrowbackThursday

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

Do you still #TBT? Many of us have a short-term memory when it comes to policy, social media too perhaps, cause I haven’t seen a #ThrowBackThursday post since Facebook started showing you your past posts.

The National Coalition for the Homeless recognizes that we are at a pivotal moment in our social policy. Modern mass homelessness, as we know it, began, not that long ago, in the 1970’s. But here we are, again facing threats to social programs that are vital for the survival of working families, and now in the midst of unprecedented economic inequality.

In solidarity with the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Our Homes Our Voices Week of Action (May 1-9) and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival 40 Days of Action (May 14-June 23), we are going to be posting historical information that relates to current trends, policy proposals, and cultural perceptions of those who experience poverty and homelessness.

To kick us off, we’ve included some more detailed history about how and why our organization was formed, and what we have accomplished over the years.

NCH Historical TimelineNCH’s Story

When modern homelessness first emerged in the late 1970s, hundreds of thousands of homeless were forced to fend for themselves on the streets, and many died or suffered terrible injuries. In 1979 a lawyer named Robert Hayes, who co-founded the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, brought a class action lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the City and State called Callahan v. Carey, arguing that a constitutional right to shelter existed in New York. In particular, the lawsuit pointed to Article XVII of the New York State Constitution, which declares that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions…” The Coalition brought the lawsuit on behalf of all homeless men in New York City. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Robert Callahan, was a homeless man suffering from chronic alcoholism whom Hayes had discovered sleeping on the streets in the Bowery section of Manhattan.

On December 5, 1979, the New York State Supreme Court ordered the City and State to provide shelter for homeless men in a landmark decision that cited Article XVII of the New York State Constitution.

In August 1981 Callahan v. Carey was settled as a consent decree. By entering into the decree, the City and State agreed to provide shelter and board to all homeless men who met the need standard for welfare or who were homeless “by reason of physical, mental, or social dysfunction.” Thus the decree established a right to shelter for all homeless men in New York City, and also detailed the minimum standards which the City and State must maintain in shelters, including basic health and safety standards. In addition, Coalition for the Homeless was appointed monitor of shelters for homeless adults.

On the heels of the landmark Callahan win, the decision was made to take the work of the Coalition for the Homeless national. Robert Hayes organized a meeting of several local coalitions in San Francisco in April 1982, out of which the National Coalition for the Homeless was established.

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