Thirty years ago, the National Coalition for the Homeless was founded after spinning off from the New York Coalition. I attended the kick off event to mark this historic day in Washington. I got to talk to Fred Karnas who was a previous Executive Director and has some great stories of building the organization. It was nice to meet Heather from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty during the gathering. I had talked to her on the phone during civil rights conference calls, but never met her in person. Michael Stoops gave a history lesson on all the work done by the Coalition including the HousingNow march in the 1980s, the McKinney Vento legislation and pushing for additional funding for the homeless programs. For thirty years the National Coalition has been known to represent the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness. The best part of the evening was hearing from the Speakers, Steve and T., who do hundreds of speaking engagements at schools and before religious communities. I talked to a number of the speakers who attended the event; all had previous experience with homelessness. It is amazing that some of these people can get up in the morning let alone talk publicly about the trauma they underwent on their path back to stable housing. They all have tremendous stories about the adversity of living on the streets, fights against bureaucracy, and abuse. These speakers had found stability and a voice to work out their pain. It is always amazing that they can put their rough times into perspective that provides a small glimpse into homelessness.
NCH has for 30 years represented the interests of those living without housing and trying to bring those voices to the halls of Congress. It was great hearing from a professor at Georgetown, Sarah Stiles, who makes it a point of having her classes hear from people living on the streets. She talked about the classroom talks and the alternative spring breaks offered to college students from around the country in Washington. As an aside for the first time a group got in trouble with the police for sleeping outside. The group never disclosed that they were students on break in DC, and were taken in by the police but not charged.
Neil Donovan was the Master of Ceremony for the event, and most of the Board were able to attend the anniversary. We are going to miss Neil, but we know that he left the organization in a better place than he found it. It is difficult to not have a feeling of remorse that the country has not solved homelessness in thirty years. How does the group celebrate that they made it through tough times, but not send a confusing message that they are celebrating that homeless people have kept them in business for 30 years? It is a balancing act to not alienate the group you cherish most of all, homeless people, but celebrate overcoming obstacles that would have killed most groups. NCH has seen some great times when they had staff in all different policy areas and were the foremost expert on the rights of homeless children and youth. They have made hate crimes against homeless people a national policy issue. The staff were experts in housing, the rights of homeless people, entitlements, and employment issues. They wrote white papers every couple of months on policy and legislative issues. They led letter writing campaigns and pushed local governments to give up on attempts to hide homeless people. They pushed against Congress and social service agencies trying to mute the social justice aspects of the struggle to find a place for everyone in society. They worked to make housing a right and not a privilege that only the sobor or mentally stable have access to in our society.
It is a good time to remind supporters of the local Coalitions to contribute to NCH with a donation to assure that they will be around to see this housing crisis to a just end. We urge you to support a group that has spent 30 years fighting the good fight? Many who founded the organization are no longer around including Mitch Snyder in DC, buddy gray in Cincinnati, Ellen Daily in Massachusetts, and John Donahue in Chicago. These four were amazing advocates in the struggle to build affordable housing and provide universal health care in the United States. NCH has had some amazing advocates associated with the organization over the years including Cheryl Barnes, Dr. Matt Vega, Barbara Duffield, Lynn Lewis, Shelia Crowley, Paul Boden, Bill Faith, John Lozier and Chuck Currie. I am happy to currently serve with John Parvensky of Denver who is the current board president doing amazing work out in Colorado. Donald Whitehead who cut his teeth in the shadow of buddy gray fighting against the forces who wanted to sweep poor people out of Over the Rhine is a former Executive Director and current board member. The NCH Board also has Patrick Markee who grew up in Cleveland, but now is a major policy wonk in New York City. There are powerful voices from the deep rural south, Florida, Indiana, Washington state, Sacramento, and Boston on the current board.
NCH has always had some strong loud voices, but the majority of the people associated with the organization over the years are the people who day in and day out are trying to figure out how to get the food to last for the last 20 stragglers in the soup line. They work every night to find a bed for the individual forgotten by the rest of society sleeping on a park bench at midnight. They come to the nation's capital looking for someone else who understands the misery of homelessness and wants to find a long term solution. They are looking for a plan, resources, or a massive development of housing to keep the children back in their community from facing the fear of not knowing where they will sleep at night.
Please help the National Coalition for the Homeless as they mark 30 years of survival and 30 years of finding a place in our society for all.
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