National Union of the Homeless Timeline

1983

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

1984

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

1985

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

1986

  • January – Leadership and Organizing Training Institute for Homeless Activists (later Annie Smart) developed, six-week intensive
    • 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, elect officers and develop first national strategy policy
  • Winter Offensive Strategy – call 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

1987

  • 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

1988

  • 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
  • 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

1989

  • 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

1990

  • 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

1991

1992

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

1993

  • WINGS secures a building in Roxbury, MA

Timeline Sources