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Posts Tagged ‘History’

#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.

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:

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