Houseless political representation and organizations

From HousingWiki

this is part of the article collection Village Buildings

National Union of the Homeless (1985-93)

"The National Union of the Homeless (NUH) was a national union of local activist organizations that fought for housing rights and economic justice in the United States. The organization was active between 1985 and 1993. At its height the National Union of the Homeless had over 20 local unions and 15,000 members." (Wikipedia).

banner from Voices From the Front, publication of the National Union for the Homeless
banner from Voices From the Front, publication of the National Union for the Homelessv

"In the late 1970s and early 1980s the United States economy underwent a series of changes that led to a sharp rise in homelessness. Homelessness was no longer characterized by down and out individuals living on skid rows. For the first time in US history, families were increasingly becoming homeless, and the shelter system was created to house them. Out of this common experience of dislocation and dispossession grew a national organization of homeless people that mobilized thousands throughout the US in the 1980s and 1990s. At its height, the National Union of the Homeless (NUH) had over 20 local chapters and 15,000 members in cities across the US. Most importantly, it implemented a model of organizing involving the poor and homeless thinking for themselves, speaking for themselves, fighting for themselves and producing from their ranks capable and creative leaders. This was contrary to the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. Almost twenty years after the decline of the NUH, its history offers important lessons for building a movement to end poverty today, in the midst of continuing concentration of wealth among a few and expanding poverty for many."

--McNeill, Emily, and Crystal Hall (2011). "The National Union of the Homeless: A Brief History."

Skid Row Neighborhood Council (LA)

"With Skid Row commonly known as “The Homeless Capitol of America”, there are unique qualities and needs which vastly differ from the typical and main focus of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council which has led to extreme contrast between the two areas- A well-documented “Downtown revitalization” which has spurred Billions of dollars of new development (including upscale lofts, condos and hotels), while Skid Row has been equally well-documented for it’s widespread squalor which has led to thousands of homeless men, women and children residing in tents and encampments on sidewalks all while at the same time, hundreds of businesses struggle to operate in a normal manor while having no choice but to work from within an environment filled with seemingly endless deplorable conditions for all to see who either reside, work or traverse within our community core.

See the following link for additional information:,_Los_Angeles.

"Our structure, since 2014, has been as the Skid Row Neighborhood Council-Formation Committee. We plan to keep this structure until we become a certified neighborhood council. The Chair of the SRNC-FC, by way of numerous community votes, is General Jeff. The City of Los Angeles has required there be (5) “Community Liaisons” who may be contacted on behalf of the Formation Committee. The Chair of the SRNC-FC selected our “Community Liaisons”, who are General Jeff, Hayk Makhmuryan, Charles Porter and Katherine McNenny, all members of the Skid Row community."

Commission on Lived Experience with Homelessness (LA)

from Los Angeles Daily News, August 5, 2020:
"the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to explore the forming of a committee made up of people experiencing homelessness, and who could provide their perspectives and expertise on policies affecting them.

"City staffers were instructed to report back on their recommendations for creating a “Commission on Lived Experience with Homelessness,” made up of people who are now homeless, or who have been in the recent past.

"They were told to consult people experiencing homelessness on how to set up the commission, as well as to study the work of cities like Austin, Texas, and Vancouver, Canada, where there are already such commissions.

"Councilman Mike Bonin proposed the commission in a motion introduced last September. The possibility of such a committee being formed comes five years after city leaders declared they would be concentrating their efforts, and parts of the city and county budgets, toward tackling the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles.

That push led to comprehensive plans being drawn up, and the passages of Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure that funds the construction of permanent supportive housing, and Measure H, a sales tax that has expanded the annual funding for homeless services. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, more emergency funding has poured in that could soon be used to boost those earlier efforts.

But Bonin acknowledged on Wednesday that the lack of advice from people who would use such services and the housing being built often hampers the ability to address homelessness effectively.

“It is very difficult, sometimes, for us to really understand what is being experienced on the streets,” he told his colleagues. “It took the city several years, and the county several years, to understand what was really wrong, and why the emergency winter shelter program, and that type of model was not an effective solution.”
The City of Los Angeles, Homelessness and Poverty Committee issued a brief accompanying report: "Homelessness and Poverty Committee Report relative to the establishment of a Commission on Lived Experience with Homelessness."
"The recommendations should include the following considerations:...

"b. Potential changes to ordinances, administrative code, and/or City Council rules to form the commission, and to insure that it can have reports heard and considered by the City, and that its members can be granted time to speak on legislative and budgetary matters impacting homelessness....

"e. Appropriate funding and resources, including dedicated staff time, training, access to materials and technological resources, and stipends or honoraria for service."

"At Large Neighborhood Association" (ALNA) 

[4 Dec 2019]

"I've been reading, researching, and book-searching along various threads relating to the Village Buildings community book project. Currently reading Autonomous City, a 2017 history/study of urban squatting in US & Europe; and before that, a 1999 book No Trespassing: Squatting, Rent Strikes, and Land Struggles Worldwide.

"My entry point there was thinking about how direct action and types of squatting/occupation have played a significant role in a good number of the village projects I'm studying -- such as Dome Village in '90s-'00s LA, and Dignity Village in Portland for which Dome Village was a key inspiration; and Right 2 Dream Too and even recently Kenton Women's Village, both also in Portland. Also, I've been interested for some years in developing-world squatter and informal settlements, was involved in NYC with the squat-originated community center ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side, etc. 

"This recent reading has given me more perspective about how large these phenomena are, and especially how significant they've been in the US and UK, from the patterns of land-claiming / occupation / squatting during US western frontier expansion, to scale of post-WWII and 1960s-on squatting across UK and in London & NY. 

"Thinking about this helped suggest an idea which I posted in several pieces on thread in Portland Homeless facebook group earlier today, proposing an 'At Large Neighborhood Association' to represent unhoused residents of Portland in the way that Neighborhood Association do the housed. With one purpose being, to build political power towards ends such as demanding use of public lands for shelter/housing, as Dignity Village and its community of supporters successfully did ca.2001. 

Posted to Portland Homeless group on Facebook 
in comments on post:
"For unhoused representation, how about something like an At Large Neighborhood Association, ALNA -- or Neighborhood At Large Assocation, NALA =- or Unhoused Neighbor Association, UNA, to supplement Portland's other NAs? Having local civic bodies based on where one is housed rather leaves out those not housed, right?

"Incidentally, the 94 current neighborhood associations each represent on average about 7,000 residents, and the 2019 Point-in-Time count for Multomah County found 4,015 people who met HUD’s definition of homelessness. So an ALNA / NALA might be roughly on the same scale as NA in numbers of people.

"Yes there are organizations that currently represent the homeless from one standpoint or area or another. This might differ by
    a) having a defined mission to democratically represent the expressed interests of unhoused people across the city, analogous to that of existing neighborhood associations for specific areas; and
    b) being recognized and supported and evaluated by the city for this purpose, as NAs are. The idea being that unhoused people are now effectively unrepresented in this system, but they are residents of the city and so should have representation.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's initiative to reorganize the Neighborhood Associations system may, of course, point in a similar direction by recognizing groups other than the NAs.

How might an ALNA be run? Probably with an office somewhere central, leadership positions elected from within group as with NAs, some support staff, meetings. Since it would be city-wide, and represent people of often limited mobility, I think it would be important to develop ways beyond physical meetings for people to participate fully. For example, via phone, text messages, smartphone, online platform, mail, local gatherings to videoconference into meeting, etc.  Perhaps the head of or representative of ALNA could have a standing agenda item at City Council meetings to give updates and input from the unhoused community.

"Perhaps the ALNA could be given certain slightly different land-use[-for-the-landless] roles, such as:

  1. a voice on any homeless-related use (shelter, supportive housing, village) proposed citywide;
  2. advance notification of, right to contest/negotiate, and involvement in any 'sweeps', as you suggest.
  3. Identifying, selecting, requesting use of, and reclaiming public properties for use as safe parking, transitional village, or long-term village use.
  4. Organizational, political, & legal support for dedication of available public land, or leasing of private land, for shelter and rehousing use."

Houseless-led participatory budgeting (Portland)

A proposed initiative in Portland, OR, introduced at City Council by Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty, late Fall 2020, which would have established a $1M fund to be allocated by a council of houseless residents.

This was attached to and dependent on a proposal to redirect budget ($18.1M?) from the Portland Policy Bureau, to find this and other initiative. That proposal was voted down by City Council.

[update: response from inquiry to Commissioner Hardesty's office]

From: Commissioner Hardesty <>

To: "" <>

Date: Mar 8, 2021, 9:56 AM

subject: Re: participatory budgeting process with the houseless community"

Hello Tim,

This is what our financial analyst [Kristin Johnson] had to say:

We have the $1M in funding for this fiscal year, and at least $950k ongoing, as it is subject to the Mayor’s cut guidance.

In the short term Street Roots has said they would be willing to help us do some surveying of the community to see what their greatest needs are right now for this fiscal year's funding.

Long-term we plan to have community event to talk about the availability of funding to get interest percolating in the community and then likely issue a letter of inquiry to see how the Community would like to develop an ongoing community budgeting process.

Thank You,

Angelita Morillo

Constituent Services

Office of Commissioner Hardesty

(503) 823-4151

"Houseless Count": on the HUD Point in Time count and alternatives

[Tim McCormick, Jan 2021]

In January, 2020, the homelessness authority (Continuum of Care) for Portland / Multnomah County, A Home for Everyone, announced it was seeking a waiver to cancel the planned 2021 "Point in Time" count of people experiencing homelessness, which is required at least biannually by US Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Story:

Notice from A Home for Everyone:

Similar waivers have been received or requested by Los Angeles County, King County (Seattle and area), Alameda County (Oakland and SF East Bay), etc.

I wonder, what sort of community-run count/outreach effort might be organized? and could we take the opportunity to develop new ideas and programs to not just 'count' but engage, enfranchise, and empower houseless residents? This would be starting from a different set of values and goals than the normal Point in Time counts, which have a key motivation of being required by HUD for local "Continuums of Care" (e.g. JOHS) to remain eligible for federal homelessness funding.

I'm considering if there's a useful opportunity to propose & help organize some form of a community-organized count. It's always been mainly a volunteer effort (why?) anyway, many people in the community really want to help not only have good knowledge but do outreach and help unsheltered people with needs, and meet their neighbors. 

there are requirements and guidance from HUD, plus local CoCs have evolved procedures and training materials etc.

I think, trying to *replicate* what has been done before under JOHS oversight is not very plausible, nor even necessarily advisable since it would trigger objections of health risks etc as JOHS cited. ..

but it could be quite worthwhile to develop proposals for what might be done alternately. HUD PIT approach is widely faulted anyway, what if we rethought it?

I've always thought the HUD PIT approach was kind of, disturbingly, as if counting animals in the wild. Our people go out and look for creatures hiding and huddled, infer status from that, then approach with a questionnaire. There are a dozen obvious problems with that. OTOH, houseless people generally know where the other houseless people are, perhaps we could work together somehow on that?

the houseless tend to be objects of the system, as opposed to subjects in it.

(as if the well-housed would really know where all the houseless are to be found, when the houseless' experience is so often, being pushed around, arrested, vilified, treated with disgust, and trying to stay out of the settlers' way and sight).

what if this were connected to ideas of creating an At Large Neighborhood Association, or #HouselessCitizen status/identification?

like, why go to all this trouble to just 'count' some visible/plausible subset of people with preset survey Qs, then just catch and release? How about, systematically provide things needed (socks, masks, meds, etc), solicit requests and suggestions, and offer a way to enroll perhaps pseudonymously as a houseless citizen?

Q: But how does one identify the people so they are not double counted?

Have you received your membership card for the ALNA?

yeah, one approach is to design things/incentives so people would not want to be counted multiple times.

Like what?

or, idk, perhaps it isn't a prime concern, if the goals are to help and enfranchise people.

To not worry about double counting?

just saying, I'd first identify goals and the priority of them, as I'm imagining something necessarily different than the HUD PIT counts have been.

off the top of my head, let's say enrolling a Houseless Citizen involves or leads to issuing some kind of uniquely identifiable card, fob, smart device (may be pseudonymous, must have careful privacy protection), and this were used say to check in to shelters and rest areas or get other services...

first, you presumably don't need more than one, and second, if you used multiple or other people's, it might (depending on design) be apparent e.g. at service points so you'd risk it being noticed and you getting penalized or the id/device deactivated.

[btw, such a card/id/device might have allowed, might still allow, R2DToo (Portland rest area / village) to get government funding, since their non-tracking of people was apparently a key objection when their last application was denied].

the existing processes also can easily count people multiple times, and miss and misclassify people many ways.

as a sort of radical perspective, let's say houseless people wanted to raise or lower the count for political or others reasons, and took measures to that end.  Perhaps we should consider that a type of legitimate self-representation and political activity, just as housing authorities' cancellation and manipulation of homeless censuses may be a political and self-interested activity as well.

perhaps the 'count' should be put entirely in the hands of the houseless. i.e. here, you run this and report how you think best. Should we really assume the opposite, that putting this under sole control of officials -- who, it seems, can fairly unilaterally make decisions such as cancelling the unsheltered count -- serves the houseless or public interest better?

we could develop and propose some such type of "Houseless Count" as an advocacy & agitprop response to the authorities cancelling their counts.

it could be done in varying levels of involvement. E.g., first pass, what if some reporter(s) or group simply went out and asked houseless people what they thought the conditions and trends were, and simply tried to get as wide and straight view of what their views are?

Houseless Citizen

a proposed term [Tim McCormick, 6 January 2020] for recognized resident/citizen of a jurisdiction who is houseless. There might be procedures for getting and maintaining this enrollment/status, and rights and services associated with it. It might qualify one for participation in a political body, such as the At Large Neighborhood Association described above.



Chou, Elizabeth ( (2020). "LA leaders tackling homelessness seek more advice from people directly affected by crisis. [City to explore the forming of a committee made up of people experiencing what it's like to be unhoused]." Los Angeles Daily News, August 5, 2020.

Homeless Union History Project.

Los Angeles, City of; Homelessness and Poverty Committee (July 2020). "Homelessness and Poverty Committee Report relative to the establishment of a Commission on Lived Experience with Homelessness."

McNeill, Emily, and Crystal Hall (2011). "The National Union of the Homeless: A Brief History." The Homeless Union History Project of the Poverty Scholars Program, July 2011. Written and designed by McNeill; coordinated and edited by Hall.

Skid Row Neighborhood Council-Formation Committee (Los Angeles). "About". (accessed 5 January 2021). From

Sparks, Tony. "Citizens without property: Informality and political agency in a Seattle, Washington homeless encampment." Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. September 20, 2016.
from Abstract:
"This article attempts to broaden and deepen the conversation on informal dwellings in the US by focusing on the tent encampment as a site of creative political agency and experimentation. Drawing upon a body of work referred to by some as “subaltern urbanism”, I examine how everyday practices of camp management produce localized forms of citizenship and governmentality through which “homeless” residents resist stereotypes of pathology and dependence, reclaim their rational autonomy, and recast deviance as negotiable difference in the production of governmental knowledge. Consideration of these practices, I argue, opens up the possibility of a of a view of encampments that foregrounds the agency of the homeless in the production of new political spaces and subjectivities."
Wikipedia (En). "National Union for the Homeless." accessed 5 Jan 2021.