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Posts Tagged ‘History’

What Would Mitch Snyder Say and Do Today?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

By Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing

Twenty years ago, the movement to end homelessness lost its most charismatic leader, Mitch Snyder. Snyder and Robert Hayes, NCH’s founder, are considered to be the two leading national homeless advocates in the 1980’s.

If Mitch were still alive today, I wonder what Mitch would do and say about how homelessness has become a way of American life and so acceptable by societal norms? Think homeless children, the elderly, or even veterans.

Mitch would definitely not be seen attending the proverbial annual homelessness conference where too few homeless people can be found. Nor would he spend a year to write a plan about ending homelessness ten years down the road.

Regardless of the political party in power, he would be pounding on the White House doors or jumping its gates and roaming the Halls of Congress shouting that people are literally dying homeless and action is needed now!

Mitch would be doing the same tried and proven effective tactics (living on the streets in solidarity with the homeless, using the media to prick the American conscience, civil disobedience, hunger fasts) that resulted in his shelter being opened and renovated, the passage of the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in 1987, and in the gathering of 250,000 people (including 25,000 homeless people) for the 1989 Housing Now march here in Washington, DC.

While traditional lobbying is still essential, I wonder if Mitch’s tactics of the 1980’s should be resurrected in these troubled economic times? Probably yes.

His legacy is evident today at the Community for Creative Nonviolence shelter in Downtown DC that continues to save lives and is one of the few programs nationwide run by the homeless volunteers.

It can also be found in the legions of youth and homeless people that he inspired who are the homeless advocates, providers, volunteers, and donors today.

As time marches on, people still remember that there was some fiery homeless activist back in the 1980’s, but have forgotten his name. I always delight in letting people know his name. And without fail, that taxicab driver or shelter volunteer always speaks of their respect and admiration for Mitch who was willing to go to jail or even risk death by fasting for homeless people.

Do we need another national leader like Mitch? Probably not. Our movement now has many mini-leaders including homeless and formerly homeless people.

I just hope that there is a little bit of Mitch Snyder in all of us which keeps our eyes on the prize of stopping this injustice of homelessness in our midst.

Forget about how he died by suicide, but how he lived his life as a true blue advocate for the homeless.

See a young advocate’s perspective on Mitch Snyder’s legacy here, or read more about Mr. Snyder’s historical impact here.

Senator Robert Byrd, Homeless Advocate Too!

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Policy Advocacy

By Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing

The McKinney Act was the first major federal program to provide funds for people experiencing homeless and inspired bipartisan support from both the House and the Senate. The current McKinney-Vento Act remains a tribute to the work of one of its chief Senate sponsors, the late Robert C. Byrd. Byrd considered the act a “conscientious and realistic emergency approach to dealing with the problems of homelessness” and was one of the chief sponsors of the Senate Bill in 1987. Because of Byrd’s’ leadership, along with Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, the Senate passed the House Bill 85-12. Together their support ensured enough votes to override a Presidential veto, and President Reagan reluctantly signed the bill into law on July 22, 1987.

NCH fondly remembers Senator Byrd’s legacy. Both a leader for West Virginia and the nation as a whole, Byrd appreciated the potential and fallibility of humans, and the need for the government to look after its poorest residents.

Read more about Sen. Byrd’s legacy at the Wash Post.

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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