On March 3, 1987 a Congressman risked, and ultimately gave, his life to address homelessness.
And today, March 3, 2014, we are fighting for the time and attention of the people in the same position. #yikes
Congressmen and women of America, we are looking at you. No one wants or expects you to sacrifice your life in the mission to end homelessness, but we do want and expect you to prioritize and care about the lives of America’s homeless. It’s not much to ask for in comparison.
Today we honor Representative Stewart McKinney (R- CT) in his efforts to address homelessness in America. Twenty-seven years ago today, advocates, politicians, and communities joined together near Capitol Hill to bring awareness to the newly formed social issue of homelessness. Before the 1980′s, homelessness existed, but due to simultaneous rising unemployment, increased costs of living, deinstitutionalization, cuts to affordable housing programs and the rolling back of safety net programs…homelessness was no longer an individual experience, but an epidemic.
Yet there was no federal funding to address it.
That is, until Rep McKinney stepped in- Originally known as the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, fifteen programs were created to change the fact that there was no national order or plan to put an end to homelessness; these programs provided a range of services including emergency shelter, transitional housing job training, health care, education support and some permanent housing. Despite the fact that President Reagan was running an Austerity Agenda, advocates, communities and legislators came together to ensure enough attention was brought to this act to get it approved by both parties.
Twenty-seven years ago today, The National Coalition for the Homeless and Community for Creative Non-Violence led advocacy efforts to bring attention to the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, which was up for a vote on the House floor. Twenty-seven years ago today, these change agents brought you the “Great American Sleep-Out”, where people gathered to sleep in solidarity with the homeless.
And because of it the act was passed with bi-partisan support, and then signed by President Reagan although he publicly displayed a “lack of enthusiasm” (apologies for the jab, but it’s hard to let the chance slip by when talking homeless history) .
But what isn’t so well known is that two months later, Rep McKinney, passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia, likely related to The Great American Sleep Out. Despite his doctor’s recommendation to not put his health and life at risk, MicKinney insisted.
After his passing, the Act was renamed the McKinney-Vento Act, and we still rely on it as it is the only national legislation that addresses homelessness. Yes. THE ONLY national law that protects and supports a population of over a million and a half people.
Twenty-seven years ago today, a Congressman gave his life for the homeless. What is your congress person doing?