Advancing the Unmet Needs of the Poor and Homeless

In the years following the passage of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, advocacy organizations with a national reach have become firmly established as essential actors in the development of homeless and housing policy and advocacy at all levels of government.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

In 1983, a citizens group of five Washington, D.C., individuals representing both political parties, including local leaders, a rabbi, and Susan Baker (the wife of James Baker, former Secretary of State in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations), came together to address the newly emerging problem of homelessness. Named "the National Citizens Committee for Food and Shelter,” it was viewed as a stopgap effort that would outlive its purpose when homelessness subsided with an improved economy. The Committee was able to obtain excess commissary goods and blankets to distribute to people sleeping in public places, and a food bank was established. The group was later renamed the Committee for Food and Shelter.

By 1987, with homelessness still common, the organization became “the National Alliance to End Homelessness,” with the chief goal of developing housing solutions. Over the years, the National Alliance has become a leader in advocating for improved federal policy by actively engaging in the legislative process. In the development and analysis of enacted and proposed legislation, the Alliance works collaboratively with colleagues in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to advocate for policy solutions to homelessness. Another objective of the Alliance is to assist communities to turn policy solutions into real-world programs by providing capacitybuilding on best practices, technical assistance, and training through its Center for Capacity Building. The Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute is intended to foster the intellectual capital around solutions to homelessness developed through research to inform policymakers, service providers, and the general public about trends in homelessness and emerging best practices ( In 2000, the Alliance’s policy initiative, focused on chronic homelessness, influenced the development of the federal initiative to “End Chronic Homelessness in Ten Years” (see Chapter 8).

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