The Homeless Union and the Winter Offensive to Organize the Poor and Dispossessed

In the 1980s and 1990s, the National Union of the Homeless organized a powerful force of the homeless and poor fighting for the basic right to housing. Through their efforts, like bold housing takeovers, they were clear that poor people needed to be brought together and united across lines of division. They also understood that the poor could lead not just themselves, but the nation as a whole toward a better future. Over two decades later, in 2019, veterans of that struggle and new leaders came together to re-launch the Union at the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  

Now, as we enter the winter and the holiday season, the National Union of the Homeless is making preparations for a national winter offensive. Through this offensive, they plan to continue to organize the homeless and shift the narrative on homelessness, not as a small or siloed issue, but as the most visible manifestation of a cruel economic system that has forced 140 million people into poverty and precarity. This winter offensive will include actions across the country, as well as opportunities for study, reflection, prayer, and fellowship. 

In this new pamphlet, longtime organizers Minister Savina Martin and Willie Baptist lay out the strategic framing for the offensive and offer a powerful analysis for how to understand the condition of homelessness and poverty today. The UPoor Journal is thrilled to publish this important and timely document for study, discussion, and inspiration to join the fight.

Download the pamphlet here.

Savina Martin grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts during the height of social and civil unrest after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her neighborhood had become a war zone. Blighted vacant lots, and abandoned and burned-out buildings lit a passion in her that has fueled the last three decades in her fight to contribute to the movement to end poverty. She was the President of the Greater Boston Union of the Homeless from 1986 to 1990 and is the former executive director of WINGS, Inc. for unhoused mothers, an abandoned takeover home that was birthed out of the National Union of the Homeless Takeover Campaign of 1986.

She currently serves on the National Advisory and Clergy Council of the Homeless Union, the Standing Committee of the University of the Poor, and is a Tri-Chair of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign. She also writes spoken-word poetry and is one of many revolving preachers at Freedom Church of the Poor. Savina is the 1988 recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Drum Major for Justice” Award, and holds an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters and a Master of Science Degree in Human Services.

Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless and its educational arm, the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks.

He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York and on the Advisory Committee for the Wildfire Project. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-Igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, and “Lessons from the Poor Organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panther P’s.” Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.

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