Revival of Chicago Homeless Union

We are the Chicago Union of the Homeless, a local chapter of the National Union of the Homeless. We are a grassroots campaign in the early stages of building a political union led by and for people on the front lines of poverty: those who are experiencing homelessness. Our mission calls for each of us "to commit our lives to ending homelessness and poverty and to work tirelessly for the human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for social and economic justice for all." Our work centers around empowering, supporting, and organizing with people living in tent encampments, as well as folks in unstable/at risk housing, and anyone experiencing homelessness at any level, take a leading role in the movement to guarantee housing and decent living standards for all Americans.

The new Chicago Union of the Homeless (CUH) was officially formed on October 24th, 2020, at a founding convention held at City Lights Church in Chicago, IL. Organizing efforts had begun a year earlier under the guidance of some of the original members of Chicago-Gary Area Union of the Homeless and the National Union of the Homeless (NUH), organizations that played a key role in the housing movement across the country through the late 80s and early 90s. Joe Peery, a co-founding member of the original Chicago-Gary Union, has been a primary political mentor to the campaign, and is currently one of our Executive Board members.

We have been organizing around the immediate survival needs of unhoused communities in Uptown, the South Loop, Avondale, Brighton Park, and elsewhere, partnering with mutual aid groups and solidarity networks, and sharing the history of the original homeless unions along the way. (One of the tools we use for this is the documentary film "Takeover"  about the NUH's nationally coordinated day of public housing takeovers on May 1, 1990. We have screened the documentary outdoors at three different encampments so far as part of our early outreach and organizing efforts.)

Parallel to the work we started in Chicago at the end of 2019, the National Union of the Homeless has also been busy organizing its own revival, and officially reconstituted on June 19th, 2020 in partnership with the Poor People's Campaign. There are already eight local chapters across California, with new locals in formation across the country. (See the mission statement of the NUH, below.) 

On September 1, 2020, we helped organize an outdoor memorial at Roosevelt and Desplaines Tent City for Wayne Warren , a member of the community who died from exposure to cold on February 15th earlier in the year. (The memorial had to be postponed for months and reorganized due to the emergent COVID crisis). Wayne was a 73-year old army veteran, a brother, and a friend to many in the community who remember him and have pledged to honor his life through the struggle to end homelessness.

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We are currently raising funds to build our Union, and are continuously fundraising to support the needs of various houseless communities across the north, south, and west sides of Chicago. For the last year our campaign has been a growing effort to organize houseless people to provide food, medical care, tents, hygiene products, blankets, etc. to each other. 

This is just the beginning of our efforts to grow an independent organization run by and for houseless folks that can operate as an organized social force within the movement for housing as well as a mutual aid hub: a place for resources, a place to have meetings with hot meals, and a place to hold political education for people struggling to secure housing. In addition to winter survival supplies such as tents and tarps, the CUH will be needing funds in order to provide hot food at all of our meetings and events, and, down the road, legal fees, bond funds, etc.

Homelessness is a societal issue that can only be understood and overcome by listening to those experiencing it and following their lead. People who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity also face many barriers to medical care, jobs, and physical safety.  With the current political climate, pending nationwide evictions, and the oncoming Chicago winter, we want to make sure that our friends and neighbors have the support they need from their community so that we can all survive together. 

We are currently preparing to participate in the "Winter Offensive" of the NUH, a national campaign of actions (housing takeovers, memorials, occupations, etc.) during the winter season and holidays designed to challenge the systems that generate homelessness and win housing victories (such as in the recent struggles in Oakland , Philadelphia , etc).

The city of Chicago has almost 2,000 vacant public housing units, collecting dust, and collecting money into the pockets of the City and private developers who profit from homelessness. There should be no one on the streets if we have more than enough housing in Chicago! Our Union is an apparatus to fight until victory: getting folks permanently housed and guaranteeing the right of stable LONG TERM housing FOR ALL!

At a time when millions of Americans are at risk of eviction in the economic fallout of COVID-19, and the pandemic continues to plague our nation, especially the poor and those without health insurance, we are preparing for a winter that is likely to be brutal and deadly. We are getting ready for the political battles that will define our times. NOW is the time for this Union. 

This year in Chicago, several encampments have been victims of fires, and we have seen an influx of people with nowhere else to go joining encampments. It has always been unsafe to be houseless in Chicago, and the danger is only increasing. Ramone Hughes, a resident from the Roosevelt and Desplaines encampment testifies: “Being homeless, you’re already in a predicament where you have to defend yourself against people who target you, or people who look at you differently, or, you know, who pass judgement on the first page of the book.” In these times of social unrest, homeless communities and individuals are particularly vulnerable to random incidents of violence and harm, in addition to the constant struggle to survive the elements. 

We have lost friends and loved ones to homelessness. We lost Wayne Warren simply because he had inadequate shelter and care in the extreme cold of Chicago's winter. Wayne’s friends and neighbors are determined to make his story known so that no one else is sentenced to die in a tent from being unable to afford a home. Most recently, there have been two more deaths reported in the Uptown homeless communities in the Wilson Ave and Lawrence Ave viaducts under Lake Shore Drive. We remember and mourn and uplift these lives. We will not continue to let our people die in our streets!

Please support us as we grow our campaign to empower each other and the most vulnerable among us. Donate, share, uplift this work, and come join us to support our mission!

We keep us safe. We matter. 

HOMELESS LIVES MATTER!
NO HOUSING, NO PEACE!

Venmo: @Chicago-HomelessUnion
Also on CashApp ("chicagohomelessunion" at gmail)

The Mission of the National Union of the Homeless:
The heart and soul of the National Union of the Homeless is to commit our lives to ending homelessness and poverty and to work tirelessly for the human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for social and economic justice for all. We dedicate ourselves to raising the awareness of our sisters and brothers, to planning a sustained struggle and to building an organization that can obtain freedom through revolutionary perseverance. We pledge to deepen our personal commitment to end all forms of exploitation, racism, sexism, and abuse. True solidarity demands that we create not only the new society, but also the new human being. 

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Organizer

Jessika Saenz 
Organizer
Chicago, IL
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