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#TBT – History of Homelessness 1929-1980

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Throughout our country’s history, there have been people who suffered from homelessness – but there has not always been the same chronic and extensive homelessness we now face. Over the years homeless individuals have been referred to by a variety of different names. During the Revolutionary War homeless individuals were referred to the “itinerate poor,” a result of a society in need of transient agricultural workers, while around the Great Depression words like “tramp” or “bum” came into use.
Timeline of events 1929-1945Timeline of events 1945-1970

Prior to the 1970s homelessness rose and fell with the economic state of the country. Starting in the 1970s policy’s shifted and a sharp and permeant rise in homelessness occurred. Previously, when there was a downturn in the economy the number of the homeless would increase, but this would be fixed when the economy returned to normal. The largest number of homeless up until that point occurred during the Great Depression, but with the help of the New Deal policies homelessness returned to its previous level.

1970s housing policyStarted in the 1970s, however, a trend of chronic homelessness began to present itself as well as different types of individuals suffering from homelessness—women, families, blue

“Anti-poverty” efforts lead to homeless site dismantlement plans and the destruction of single-room occupancy facilities in urban downtowns. Churches begin to take on the burden of creating shelters, and local coalitions develop. Bank deregulation and the start of the farm crisis widen the gap between rich and poor.

Additionally, mental health consumers began to be deinstitutionalized without providing adequate housing and health care resources for community reintegration. As a result, many people with mental illnesses started to end up homeless or in jail.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and policy has continued to ensure economic inequality at staggering levels. Keep a look out next week for a closer look at the history of homelessness in the U.S. after 1980.

2022 Leadership Summit

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A gathering of people with previous experience with homelessness on November 12, 2022 to set a national agenda for ending housing instability in America.

Click to register.

Why Do We Need to Meet?

For 42 years, the National Coalition for the Homeless has worked to amplify the voices of those without housing on the national level. We have worked with leaders on the local level to bring their voices to Congress and to the attention of national media. We have regular interaction with advocates in the major cities in the United States and receive input from people living in urban and rural environments. NCH is governed by a majority of people with previous experience and we have a sizable number of our staff who were once homeless. We believe that it is critical for the groups to meet together to share common advocacy strategies, find out about the obstacles faced by other communities, and to work together on a common agenda.

In 2015, we held a gathering in Denver, Colorado of over 100 individuals who all represented constituents of people currently or formerly homeless. This gathering was the beginning of the strategic planning process, and an event in Washington would be the continuation of that movement. We had some best practices featured and a long day of workshops and the start of building community. A great deal has changed in the last seven years and it is time to complete the work of 2015.

History of Planning:

Because of Covid, we have not been able to meet in person for three years. While we can accomplish a great deal via Zoom, it does not afford the individuals the opportunity to express themselves. We also believe that breaking bread together at a soup kitchen, church basement or a hotel conference room is important for building interpersonal skills and trust among the groups.

In 2021 we held a follow up summit via Zoom in which 65 people attended virtually. We talked about community organizing strategies, we had various leaders talk about successful strategies from the past including demonstrations, using art to win the message, and lawsuits. We talked about how groups sustain themselves and how we can work together going forward. We distributed a community organizing manual that people could use in their local work to lift people up.

Goals for the 2022 Leadership Conference

These are the recommendations from the groups that attended the first organizing meeting.

  • Develop a national strategy of priorities that the grassroots can rally around
  • We want to have a specific focus on how we can stop the criminalization of homelessness.
  • Provide the tools for the local community to act with lessons from the past and strategies that have worked in other communities.
  • Meet with national leaders to listen to the issues that groups face on the local level.
  • Work with the local community to have those who are without housing are in the lead in a real way and not just figuratively.
  • Develop hotspots that with some national pressure might be willing to change policies to better serve those without housing.
  • Develop an action plan for the participants to go back to their communities which will result in real solutions to the affordable housing crisis.

Director of Community Organizing

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This is a full time position with a full benefit package including a retirement plan, as well as health, vision, dental, life and disability insurance.

To apply: Send a resume or background information containing your complete work history and a cover letter referencing this position by e-mail to dwhitehead @ nationalhomeless.org.

Position Description: The Director of Community Organizing will focus on the following areas:

  • Outreach to national and field allies to develop new organizing models for achieving local victories
  • Outreach to targeted cities to build regional coalitions that support local and national organizing efforts for NCH’s anti-criminalization and the Civil Rights Initiatives.
  • Promote and Encourage Grassroots Organizing led by people with lived experience and expertise.
  • Build support for NCH policy and national positions among local Coalitions.
  • Schedule meetings with administration officials in Justice, HHS, HUD, the Interagency Council, and FEMA to push the Civil Rights agenda
  • Represent NCH with other national groups on civil rights, voting, and protections against hate crime issues.

Qualifications: We seek a seasoned leader and organizer with solid references interested in growing the credible powerhouse for organizing, member engagement, and mobilization. The ideal candidate should have at least membership and organizing experience.

Candidates should also have:

  • A demonstrated commitment to social justice, robust analysis of systemic oppression based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and an understanding of challenges facing people experiencing homelessness, immigrant communities, communities of color, and low-and moderate-income families.
  • Excellent organizational skills and good attention to detail. A high level of self-motivation and a proven ability to work independently as well as collaboratively.
  • Ability to work well with diverse groups and populations.
  • Dedication and ability to work flexible hours.
  • Capacity to engage and inspire a variety of audiences.
  • Willingness to travel within the United States.

Compensation: This position pays $50,000 per year and is a full time position with a robust benefit package that includes 2+ weeks a year of vacation and holidays, sick leave, 403b retirement plan, an employee assistance plan, and Health, Vision, Dental, Life and Disability Insurance.
 

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