Housing NOW at 25 years

Thanks to the National Coalition for the Homeless for the photoThe National Coalition for the Homeless and the Center for Community Change hosted a 25th Anniversary celebration of the Housing NOW march in Washington DC.  Jerry Jones, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless moderated the event and gave some reflections about his experiences.  Panalists included Shelia Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Peter Edelman a professor at Georgetown Law School and previous staff in the Clinton administration, Mary Lassen of the Center for Community Change, and T. Sanders a Speakers' Bureau member for NCH.   Donna Brazile a political commentator set the tone for remembering the day at the beginning of the event and NCH Board President and ED of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, John Parvensky closed the ceremony with his reflections. 

There were between 75,000 to 150,000 people who came from all over the United States to protest the growing homeless population.  Michael Stoops of NCH and Mitch Snyder of CCNV in DC organized the march which featured celebrities such as Coretta Scott King, labor leaders, and religious leaders on hand to protest the growing number of families falling into homelessness and the lack of a federal response.  The panelists on Monday October 27, talked about the development of HOPE VI legislation to rebuild public housing as well as the affordable housing HOME program that were expanded after the March in 1989. There were local attention toward homelessness and federal dollars going into addressing the problem in the nation's capital.  Ms. Sanders put a face on the problem by showing how a family deals with homelessness 25 years later.Peter Edelman talked about one-third of the population are living near poverty and the impact that has on our society.  He went through the laundry list of problems associated with mass incarceration, the lack of funding for education system in America, and the changes in family structure. Edelman wanted to make it clear that we are doing better in addressing poverty since the War on Poverty started during the Johnson administration (22% were living in poverty in 1961 and 11.3% living in poverty today).   But over the last 25 years, we really had not made much progress because we have not had the political will to address the problem. 

It made me reflect on how things had changed over the last twenty-five years.  I was volunteering for the Homeless Grapevine 20 years ago, and things are much different.  I looked at the stats from back then and there were between 3,500 to 5,000 homeless people in Cleveland.  The Coalition was started back in 1987 after advocates started seeing more and more families showing up asking for help.  There was not the infrastructure to serve families and no one in the community wanted to see a bunch of kids who had become homeless.  The school district had around 100 to 200 families that had become homeless and church leaders were worried.  The Mayor's office did not have a response, but were concerned about the growing number of homeless people.  There was discussion of opening the basements of government buildings (including the lobby of the Justice Center) for the winter.  Today, we have 9,000 unique individuals using the shelters and the school district had nearly 4,000 families during the last school year.  We have overflowing shelters nearly every night.  We estimate around 22,000 homeless people last year and there were over 500 families who asked for shelter last year. There are substantially more homeless people in Cleveland and in most cities in the United States since the march in 1989.

Families are trying to find a space during the day for their kids in Cleveland.  Politicians at the state, federal and local level rarely talk about homelessness even when asked at debates.  There is no plan for how to end homelessness for everyone.  We have focused resources on veterans and those who were homeless a long period of time, while single women and family homelessness has grown.  We have certain populations pitted against each other for limited funding.  We have 60,000 people locally in need of some assistance with their rent, and a shredding of the social safety net in the United States.  We don't have the kind of help we had in the past for those facing eviction and homelessness.  Cleveland still has a commitment to providing shelter to everyone who comes to the door, but that now involves mats on the floors of churches even for families.  Most other cities in the United States turn people away when the shelters are full.  Advocates marched on Washington 25 years ago to demand action on a national housing plan and homelessness has only grown across America.  Presidential candidates no longer talk about homelessness and Mayors do not campaign on how they will solve the problem.  They have to deal with all the issues that come because we have a segment of the population living on the streets or in shelter.  No one is talking about solving the problem.  No one is demanding immediate action.  Even with all these vacant homes, we are not looking at a five or ten or twenty year end to homelessness.  It seems that it is time for another march on Washington to revive the push to end homelessness in America. 

Brian Davis

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