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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.

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.

 

 

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