Timeline of Impacts
Picture the Homeless has won hundreds of victories and policy changes, some large and some small, but every single one of them has helped improve the lives of homeless New Yorkers.
HOUSING VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2017 – Moved the city to embrace community land trusts as a mechanism for developing permanently-affordable housing, a vital first step in returning vacant city-owned property to actual community control and the administration’s first significant break with the city’s longtime practice of transferring public land into the hands of private, for-profit housing developers.
2016 – Unveiled the Gaining Ground Pilot Program, developed by homeless people and nonprofit housing developers, to move the city away from its reliance on expensive shelter models that do nothing to stabilize families or communities, or to stem the tide of skyrocketing rents and mass displacement that drive the homeless crisis.
2016 – Helped shape the first major review and overhaul of the New York City shelter system. Members of Picture the Homeless who are living in shelters, as well as folks on the streets who refuse to go into shelter, met with HRA Commissioner Steve Banks and got him to include our demands in his review, including goals that PTH members have been fighting for since 2002.
2016 – Developed and refined a plan for the East Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust to create a mutual housing association with at-risk city-owned buildings in East Harlem that have shown interest in joining the CLT. We believe the CLT can be a successful model to preserve permanently affordable housing for extremely low to low income individuals in East Harlem that can then also be replicated throughout New York City.
2016 – Helped end the “cluster site” shelter program, a notorious failure where the city paid slumlords thousands of dollars above market rate each month to shelter homeless people in substandard private apartments.
2014 – Got the Mayor to incorporate two of our key demands in his ambitious ten-year housing plan, including a citywide count of vacant property and a pilot program to re-allocate shelter resources to develop housing for homeless people!
2014 – Stopped the city from evicting 40 homeless families from shelter with less than 24 hour notice, and got the city to provide housing for many of them.
2013 – Created the New York City Community Land Initiative, a citywide alliance of organizations working to create community land trusts as a solution to the housing crisis and a source of housing for poor people.
2012 – Released “Banking on Vacancy,” a groundbreaking report documenting the findings from our citywide vacant property count.
2011 – Presented Surplus Property and Benefits: Expanding Access to Housing at the National Forum on the Human Right to Housing in Washington DC.
2011 – Organized a Progressive Legislation conference in April 2011 – with the Urban Justice Center – Human Rights Project; featuring participants from New York Jobs With Justice/ALIGN, A Better Balance, the Street Vendor Project, Women on the Rise Telling Herstory (WORTH), among others.
2011 – Developed an online Community Land Trust resource page on the Picture the Homeless website.
2011 – Co-designed a class and participatory research project on housing policy and Community Land Trusts with Professor John Krinsky of City College of New York.
2011 – Led an historic first-ever city-wide Vacant Property Count in partnership with Hunter College’s Department of Community Planning and Development, mobilizing over 275 volunteers and partnering with dozens of community organizations, civic institutions and community spaces from all 5 boroughs.
2010 – Initiated a Freedom of Information Request Drive, to 17 City agencies, resulting in our obtaining and mapping the addresses of nearly 12,000 vacant buildings and lots.
2010 – Co-convened the No More “Affordable” Housing Scams! (NO MAHS) conference on Community Land Trusts and Community-based Planning at Hunter College in March of 2010, attended by over 100 participants from around the country.
2010 – Moved Habitat for Humanity, the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness, and DC 1707 to adopt Intro 48 as a legislative priority.
2010 – Launched an innovative interactive site, using open source software to map the 12,000 addresses obtained from FOIL returns in 2010.
2009 – Trained Right to the City and Reclaim NYC to conduct vacant building counts (luxury condos and in outer boroughs).
2009 – Coordinated the chapter on Homelessness in a national report presented to the CERD convention in Geneva, ensuring that homelessness in the public record as a racial justice issue.
2009 – Served as the NYC Anchor and helped organize a national visit to the U.S. by the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Housing on her first official mission to the United States, to examine and report on the status of the realization of housing rights in the United States, engage in dialogue with the U.S. government regarding its progress in securing these rights, and identify practical solutions and best practices in the realization of rights relevant to the mandate.
2009 – Drafted City Council legislation that would empower the city to conduct an annual count of vacant buildings and lots; with more than a majority of the Council already signed on as co-sponsors, this might be the first time ever that a bill drafted by homeless people has a shot at passage.
2008 to Present – Created the Housing Not Warehousing Coalition, with over 38 organizational members, to link disparate interests behind ending property warehousing.
2008 – Won the inclusion of warehoused vacant property in the Democratic Party Platform through a series of meetings with delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and an East Harlem “Shadow Convention.”
2008 – Moved the New York State Legislature to pass legislation eradicating a tax credit that encouraged landlords to keep properties vacant above 110th Street in Manhattan.
2007 – Published Homeless People Count, documenting our block-by-block count of vacant property in Manhattan.
2007 – Co convened the Innovations in Affordable Housing Workshop for the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the NC Council Housing Conference.
2005 to 2006 – Designed and executed a block-by-block count of vacant property in Manhattan in conjunction with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, proving that there is enough vacant property in Manhattan to house every homeless household in all five boroughs.
2005 – Created a Housing and Jobs Platform, linking the issue of low income and high rents to homelessness and conversely, the creation of housing for homeless and poor folks as a solution to homelessness and poverty.
2004 to Present – Introduced the Community Land Trust and Mutual Housing Association concepts to progressive housing alliances in NYC, including Right to the City and nationwide, including Take Back the Land and the U.S. Alliance of Habitants.
2005 to Present – Convened several panels with diverse groups addressing the history of vacant property and past and present solutions, such as Take Back the Land from Miami, leading intellectuals, and squatter movement leaders.
2003 – 2004 – Designed and executed a sample survey of vacant buildings and lots in E Harlem. Our findings helped secured support to develop our Housing Not Warehousing Campaign.
2003 to Present – Earned a seat at the table at several key progressive NYC formations, including the Still We Rise Coalition, Right to the City NYC, the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights, the Coalition to Save Harlem and the East Harlem Anti-Displacement Task Force.
2002 – Won a $10.00 per hour stipend for homeless participants in the Continuum of Care planning process for meeting attendance.
2002 to Present – Played a central role in a national shift towards more aggressive direct action against the housing crisis, including homesteading, property takeovers, and legislative challenges to the rights of banks and landlords to keep buildings empty.
2001 to Present – Held major academic forums at Columbia University, Hunter College, the CUNY Grad Center, and others, where sociologists, urban planners, faith leaders, and homeless people strategized and shared ideas around crafting housing policy that works for all New Yorkers.
2000 to Present – Created popular education materials and trained over 100 homeless people in HUD funding processes for homeless programs.
2000 – Provided the first testimony, along with New York City Aids Housing Network, to the NYC Continuum of Care, and with NYCAN created co- chaired the consumer committee, training hundreds of homeless New Yorkers on the process of distribution of HUD homeless funding.
CIVIL RIGHTS VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2017 – Forced the City to provide compensation to three homeless New Yorkers who were kicked awake and whose belongings (including life-sustaining medication, irreplaceable family photos, birth certificates, and more) were thrown into a trash compactor by police and sanitation workers.
2016 – Filed the first major legal action against the NYPD under the Community Safety Act, working with the New York Civil Liberties Union to file a complaint urging the New York City Commission on Human Rights to investigate the NYPD’s practice of forcing homeless people in Harlem to “move along” when they have not violated any laws but are simply present on streets, sidewalks and in other public spaces.
2016 – Built solidarity between incarcerated and homeless New Yorkers by working with Sing Sing prisoners who donated hundreds of hoodies to us after hooded sweatshirts were banned in all state prisons. Because we want to break the cycle of criminalization, racism, prison, shelters and displacement, we organized “Hoodstock” at 125th Street & Park Avenue to distribute the hoodies to homeless people in Harlem who had been displaced by skyrocketing rents and have since been the victims of constant police abuse and harassment.
2016 – Briefed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, educating him on the NYPD’s explicit policy of denying homeless people the right to assemble.
2015 – Helped move the City to create a “municipal ID” program and ensured that the program would be accessible to people without a fixed address, helping tens of thousands of homeless people avoid unnecessary arrest.
2014 – Got the NYPD Commissioner to publicly promise to cease warrant-squad raids on homeless shelters in the 24th Precinct (Upper West Side Manhattan)
2014 – Got the Department of Homeless Services to stop telling the NYPD about homeless shelter residents with outstanding warrants for “Quality of Life” violations!
2014 – Forced the MTA & NYPD to cancel a planned “purge” of homeless people from the subway system
2013 – Secured passage of the Community Safety Act, landmark legislation that will reform the way the NYPD polices communities of color, which is the first bill in the country to explicitly name homeless people as a protected class from police harassment.
2012 – Joined the Steering Committee of Communities United for Police Reform, a powerful alliance of organizations fighting to reform racially-biased NYPD policies like “stop and frisk.”
2011 – Played a leadership role in the development of Bloombergville, training other participants in the first amendment right to sleep on the streets as a form of political protest, and provided security and police negotiation to the alliance of groups constituting Bloombergville.
2011 – Moved an emerging alliance of anti-police violence organizations to prioritize the ending of custodial arrests for Quality of Life Summonses, including Disorderly Conduct.
2011 – Liaised between a street homeless woman harassed by illegal use of the Disorderly Conduct statute by the NYPD and a PTH legal ally, which resulted in a temporary restraining order issued in federal court on her behalf and an ordering of remedial training for police in Manhattan North.
2010 – Initiated a participatory action research project to document the impact of how the NYPD enforces the Disorderly Conduct Statute on homeless New Yorkers.
2010 – Drafted legislation to amend the Disorderly Conduct Statute and secured the commitment of a State legislator to introduce it as a bill.
2010 – Convened two roundtable discussions on the Disorderly Conduct Statute at the Center for Constitutional Rights with dozens of grass roots and legal allies attending.
2008 – Expanded Know Your Rights Legal Clinic to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
2005 – Launched a Know Your Rights Legal Clinic at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.
2005 – Created a legal resource directory and popular education materials around policing and legal issues impacting homeless New Yorkers.
2004 – Stopped the police in Central Park from arresting and harassing homeless people who sleep in the “Rambles” section of the park for several months, through a “sleep out” civil disobedience protest with homeless people who had previously been harassed on a nightly basis.
2004 – Moved the Unlock the Block voting rights coalition to include the issues of barriers to voting for shelter residents and other homeless New Yorkers as a major campaign focus.
2004 – Won extended hours at the federal post office general delivery window which was slated to be closed during the RNC, and which would have prevented hundreds of homeless New Yorkers, including disabled and veterans, from receiving their mail.
2004 – Reversed a decision by the New York State Parole Board to ban parolees who live outside of Manhattan from entering Manhattan unless they could prove employment there, during the RNC.
2004 – Created a network of homeless organized safe havens in churches in midtown Manhattan for homeless New Yorkers during the RNC.
2004 – Created Operation Cardboard Box, which won several key concessions from the NYPD, and Republic National Convention organizers, and significant support from allies in the midtown Manhattan area slated for the RNC.
2003 to 2004 – Conducted dozens of workshops in soup kitchens and shelters, on Homeless Voting Rights and Civic Participation. We hired 7 members of our civil rights committee to develop curricula and conducted civic participation workshops in all 5 boroughs.
2003 – Won major victory against the NYPD in federal court, resulting in the issuance of a groundbreaking settlement agreement and policy directive against selective enforcement of the law.
2002 – First direct action against Bloomberg held on January 16th by Picture the Homeless, in response to his first public policy initiative, “zero tolerance for Quality of Life violations”.
2002 – Moved the New York Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of Picture the Homeless, whose members were subject to arrest and harassment due to a shift in policing policies of the Bloomberg Administration.
2002 – Launched NYC Freedom Summer, a participatory action research project that surveyed over 500 homeless New Yorkers on selective enforcement of the law by the NYPD in Manhattan.
2001 to Present Engaged legal allies to serve in an advisory capacity to our civil rights campaign.
2001 – Created Homeless Civil Rights Legal Clinic in conjunction with NYC Police Watch of the Ella Baker Center.
1999 to Present – Moved the issues around Quality of Life Policing onto the agenda of the anti-police violence movement in NYC.
GENERAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2016 – One person at a time, we are shattering the myth that homeless people are “service resistant,” and exposing the many ways that homeless services are actually people-resistant. By treating people with respect and dignity, and patiently helping them navigate complex and unsympathetic bureaucracies, we’ve connected dozens of street homeless people with transitional or permanent housing, treatment, and other services. Many of these are Harlem residents who for years have been written off as “unreachable” and “past help” by social workers and police officers and community stakeholders.
2016 – Moved the journalists covering homelessness at every major New York City newspaper to routinely include the voices of actual homeless people – not just ivory-tower experts and professional advocates – in their coverage of these issues.
2013 – Opened the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Reference Library, a resource conceptualized and curated by homeless people, where the homeless can get the skills and knowledge to change their lives and change the world.
2013 – PTH Board Member Jean Rice’s lifetime of social activism was celebrated in an official City Council Proclamation.
2011-2012 –PTH members played a major leadership role at the Zuccotti Park encampment, and in the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole.
2011 – Expanded our board of directors to 9 members, retaining our majority homeless composition.
2010 – Hosted General Welfare Committee Chair of the New York City Council, Annabel Palma and Government Operations Chair, Gale Brewer at the Jan Hus House for an information session on problems endemic to the shelter system.
2010 – Expanded the organizer trainee program to the Homeless Organizing Academy, offering classes in basic skills training as well as organizing skills, and adding a computer lab of 9 new computers with Internet access.
2005 to Present – Sent delegations to the World Social Forum in Brazil and 35 people to the U.S. Social Forums in Atlanta and Detroit.
2005 to Present – Launched an organizer trainee program to train homeless folks in community organizing. This successful program has an 80% track record of graduates who are employed and/or serving on the board of community based organizations such as People’s Production House, Take Back the Land, and the Highbridge Community Life Center as well as here at Picture the Homeless.
2004 to Present – Petitioned by several city soup kitchens to send PTH members to help create “Client Advisory Boards” (CABs), where homeless people who access their services can influence practices, ensuring that homeless people can have substantive involvement and real power in the operation of the facilities that serve them.
2004 to Present – Held “Accountability Sessions” where elected and appointed officials responsible for implementing policies that impact our members appeared before the homeless community, explained their actions, heard criticisms, and committed to address them.
2004 to Present – Earned a seat at the table in numerous progressive alliances, including Right to the City – NYC, the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights, the Coalition to Save Harlem and the East Harlem Anti-Displacement Task Force, ensuring that the voices of homeless people are a part of the conversation.
2004 to Present – Designed, executed and published groundbreaking participatory research projects and subsequent reports, including Homeless People Count, on vacant properties in Manhattan, Abuse and Neglect: How NYC Violates the Human and Civil Rights of Families inside the Emergency Assistance Unit, and Times Up! The Failures of Mayor Bloomberg’s Five-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
2002 to Present – Built global alliances with other poor people’s movements including A Varos Mindenkie (The City is for All) in Budapest, Hungary; Congesco (canner’s/recycler’s group) in Brazil; and Abahlali baseMjondolo (the Shackdwellers Movement) in South Africa.
1999 to Present – Established homeless people as authorities on homelessness and as a resource for policy makers. We have presented in social work schools, seminaries, medical schools, and urban planning and political science departments, and offered training city wide, nationally and internationally on issues around homelessness, housing and poverty. We have successfully challenged decades old patterns of patholization and paternalism that framed homeless people as victims of a disorder, or criminal, and repositioned homelessness as one facet of the broader issues of poverty, racism, gender discrimination and other forms of social injustice.
1999 to Present – Built a membership organization led by homeless people to identify critical issues and implement plans of action for economic and housing justice and respect for the civil rights of homeless people.
ECONOMIC JUSTICE VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2007-2009 – Fought for and won passage of the “Better Bottle Bill,” which dramatically expanded the kinds of recyclable containers that can be redeemed, and more strictly enforced the obligation of vendors to accept recycled containers, putting lots more money in the pockets of canners throughout New York State.
2006 – Moved the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute supermarkets violating the bottle law. Supermarkets were violating the law, which says that canners can return 240 (or $12.00 worth) of bottles and cans for their 5 cent deposit. This made life easier for thousands of very-low-income people who make a living and keep our city clean by picking up cans and bottles from NYC streets.
2006 – Hosted the Special Expert from the UN on Extreme Poverty in the U.S. in conjunction with the National Social and Economic Rights Initiative. Leaders presented testimony and provided recommendations. Holding the event at our office created an access point for homeless peoples involvement and the fuller participation of other grass roots organizations.
POTTERS FIELD VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2005 to Present – Forced the Department of Corrections to reverse its policy prohibiting friends and family from visiting Potters Field to pay their respects to homeless people who pass away. To this day, Picture the Homeless coordinates interfaith services on Potters Field six times per year.
2005 – Worked with Thomas McCarthy, unofficial historian for Hart Island, to include a memorial card for Lewis Haggins at correctionhistory.org.
2005 – Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field and members of Picture the Homeless’ Potter’s Field Campaign met with Deputy Commissioner Thomas Antenen of the Department of Correction to negotiate interfaith memorial services on Hart Island. As a result of that meeting, the Department of Correction has provisionally allowed bi-monthly memorial services.
2005 – Co wrote a liturgy with Union Theological Seminary Student Rev Amy Gopp, “With All Due Respect” to honor the lives of all those buried in Potter’s Field. Union Theological Seminary hosted this memorial on March 3, 2005 and have and now adopted as part of their curricula.
2005 – Won the addition of a staffer person at the City Morgue to conduct additional identity verification for deceased Jane and John Does.
2005 – Won for the first time, the right for homeless people to travel to Potters Field to mourn a friend. Several members of Picture the Homeless, Lewis Haggins family and four faith leaders went to Potter’s Field on Hart Island to celebrate a memorial for Lewis Haggins, our co-founder.
2005 – Members of the Potter’s Field Campaign made a journey to join St. Benedict Catholic Church on Hart Island for a memorial mass for those who are buried in Potter’s Field. Members of the campaign were unsuccessful gaining access to Hart Island, but the journey was recorded into a moving documentary film.
2005 – Joined Union Theological Seminary’s Poverty Initiative to address the International Peace Council about the Potter’s Field Campaign and about the inhumanity in which the poor are treated in New York City.
2004 – Inspired an interfaith coalition of faith leaders to form “Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field to support our work to open Potters Field to interfaith services.
2000 to Present – Convened an annual interfaith service for the homeless deceased on the “Longest Night of the Year, each December 21st at Judson Memorial Church.
SHELTER/RENTAL SUBSIDIES VICTORIES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
2009 – Published report, “Times Up,” an expose on Mayor Bloomberg’s failed 5 year plan to end homelessness, based upon over 500 surveys and data gathered from City agencies.
2007 – Helped force the city to abandon its deeply flawed “Housing Stability Plus” rental subsidy for homeless people.
2006 – Helped get the city to shut down the Emergency Assistance Unit, a notoriously horrific intake center where homeless people were subject to conditions so unhygienic and humiliating and stressful that one teenage boy committed suicide.
2013 – Challenged the problematic #FitchTheHomeless hashtag campaign.
2011 – Hosted “Tweeting the Revolution,” an interactive webinar for social justice organizations looking to integrate social media into their work.
2010 – Acclaimed as one of the top 50 public policy blogs by the Policy Police, alongside Nobel laureates and hundred-year-old journals.
2007 – Forced the Department of Homeless Services to create an improved inspection process for apartments rented through their subsidy programs.
2007 – Exposed the failures of Housing Stability Plus, a flawed housing subsidy for homeless folks with public assistance cases that put homeless people in unsafe and unsustainable apartments. We forced the city to create rental subsidy programs for homeless folks with low wage jobs, or who had disability income. We also exposed the practice of landlords charging “side deals” so that formerly homeless tenants were forced to pay more than the rent amount on the lease.
2006 – Played an instrumental role in the closing of the EAU. This dangerous and disgusting intake facility subjected homeless families to inhumane and humiliating abuse when they applied for shelter. Our members took personal risk to smuggle in cameras and petitions to document conditions there and moved the Special Master Panel to adopt many of our recommendations.
2005 – Exposed the absence of homeless participation in the Mayor’s 5 Year Plan to End Homelessness, winning inclusion in the Plan’s Implementation Task Force.
2004 to Present – Created homeless-made documentary films that have been broadcast on cable television, in international film festivals, and received tens of thousands of views online.
2004 – 2007 – Built power with residents of specific shelters to hold operators accountable to make positive changes, including: getting them to distribute new beds to those who needed them; fix rodent infestations; post important notices to residents; put a grievance procedure in place for security guards to deal with problematic residents; repair holes in the ceiling and replace broken air conditioners; and put new locks on doors for residents.
2004 – 2007 – Trained 10 homeless members on the use of video technologies, producing TV broadcast quality videos that aired on public access television, and that we have utilized in public education forum citywide, nationally and internationally.
2002 – Prevented the Department of Homeless Services from opening the Bronx jail as an overflow site for homeless families with children due to overcrowding in the Emergency Assistance Unit by working with the Bronx Borough President and advocacy groups.
2002 – Moved the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Linda Gibbs to create Office of Client Advocacy, the only mechanism by which shelter residents can seek redress of grievances incurred within the system and provide direct input to executives in charge of the shelter-industrial complex.
1999 to Present – Transformed the standard of coverage of homeless issues in NYC; while still deeply problematic and relying heavily on negative stereotypes, articles about homelessness and homeless people are nowhere near as hostile and inflammatory as they were in 1999 –, when we were founded in response to newspapers saying things like “GET THOSE VIOLENT CRAZIES OFF THE STREETS.”
1999 to Present – Got positive coverage of our work in every mainstream and independent news outlet in NYC.
AWARDS WE’VE WON
- 2013 City Council Proclamation
- 2012 Frederick Douglass Award, from the North Star Fund
- 2011 People’s Life Fund Award
- The 2009 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice;
- Inducted as a “Saint” in 2009 – into Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping;
- The 2008 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award, for our Commitment to Fighting Hunger and Poverty;
- The 2007 “Building the Blessed City” Award from Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing;
- The 2006 Samuel P. Peabody Award for Community Activism for our work to close the EAU and improve access to shelter for homeless families;
- A 2006 “Best Of” from the Village Voice, for our Potter’s Field Campaign;
- The 2002 Union Square Award.