National Union of the Homeless Timeline


  • Chris Sprowal, Tex Howard, and Franklin Smith found the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless in Philadelphia


  • January – NYPD launches Operation Pressure Point in the Lower East Side, making over 14,000 arrests for low-level drug offenses in 18 months, and begin to clear the neighborhood for gentrification
  • February – Sprowal, Howard and Smith establish a shelter run and managed by currently and formerly homeless persons


  • Slogan “Homeless Not Helpless” developed – demands for permanent housing, work and healthcare are made
  • April 6th – Founding convention of the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Union of the Homeless is held, and its constitution adopted
  • Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Union wins rights to shelter, 24-hour shelter intake, voting for homeless persons, and secure public showers
  • Work of building a national network of locals begins


  • January – Leadership and Organizing Training Institute for Homeless Activists (later renamed the Dignity Tenants Leadership Development Institute) develops a six-week intensive training course in preparation for a national organizing drive
    • Willie Baptist hired to staff Institute and provide leadership trainings
  • October – National Union of the Homeless (NUH) holds its first strategy meeting with eight representative affiliates, elects officers and develops first national strategy policy
  • Winter Offensive Strategy – calls for simultaneous actions among affiliates under slogan “Homes and Jobs: Not Death in the Streets”
  • Locals/affiliate unions established in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York
  • Boston, Baltimore, Washington struggle to secure adequate spaces
  • Greater Boston Union of the Homeless established
  • October – Beginning of National Organizing Drive, Chris Sprowal tours 6 cities
  • City of Philadelphia provides space for “Dignity Shelter,” a shelter run by homeless people


  • Affiliate unions established in Oakland, Tucson, Albuquerque, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Detroit
  • Stewart McKinney Homeless Assistance Act – secures funding for emergency shelters as Reagan administration drastically cuts HUD budget
  • October – National Tribunal on the Plight of the Homeless in New York City
  • Founding Convention of the New York Homeless Union – 1,200 delegates assemble at Riverside Church


  • January – Takeover of Henry Horner Public Housing Project by Chicago/Gary Area Union of the Homeless
  • Dignity Housing incorporated by Sprowal, Leona Smith, and Executive Director Alicia Christian in Philadelphia
  • May – New Executive Board Members of NUH draft mission statement
  • July – “Take Off The Board” Campaign
  • August 6th – Beginning of struggle in Tompkins Square Park, NYC


  • Savina Martin founds Women’s Institute for New Growth and Support (WINGS), plays leading role in Treatment on Demand in Massachusetts
  • July – NUH leaders (including Willie Baptist and Leona Smith) visit Tompkins Square Park “Tent City” and meet with Ron Casanova
  • Summer – Survival Summit convened in Philadelphia, chapters of NUH, National Welfare Rights Union, and National Anti-Hunger Coalition attend, “Up and Out of Poverty Now” slogan adopted
  • Exodus March – Ron Casanova and Tompkins Square Park Union of the Homeless lead almost 300 members of NUH and allied groups to Washington, D.C.
  • October 6th – NUH meets with Jack Kemp, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Kemp promises 10% of HUD housing would go to homeless beginning in 1990 to be rehabilitated and managed by the homeless
  • October 7th – Housing Now! Rally in Washington, D.C. attended by 100,000 people, NUH demands the right to speak at the rally
  • Chris Sprowal publically admits his drug addiction during a nationwide tour in a City Limits profile, Dignity Housing and NUH remove Sprowal from leadership
  • Leona Smith elected President of NUH


  • May 1st – NUH coordinates takeovers of empty federally-owned houses, citing Jack Kemp’s promise, in New York, Minneapolis, Detroit, Los Angeles, Tucson, Oakland, Chicago and Philadelphia



  • Dignity Housing hosts Dignity Tenants’ (later Annie Smart) Leadership Development Institute


  • WINGS secures a building in Roxbury, MA

Timeline Sources