Homelessness History: A Life Exchanged for Homelessness Assistance

MckinneyToo few people know the history of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act—one of the first significant federal efforts to provide assistance to the homeless. It is an amazing tale wherein a life was put on the line to create momentum for passage of this keystone homelessness legislation.

According to this article, in March of 1987, the Community for Creative Non-Violence and the National Coalition for the Homeless organized the “Great American Sleep-Out”—an event in which homelessness advocates slept outdoors to show support for a homeless assistance bill sponsored by Representative Stewart McKinney. As a strong homelessness advocate, McKinney put his life on the line by participating in the Great American Sleep-Out.

McKinney contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion in 1979 and had been warned of the extreme dangers of sleeping in freezing weather, especially for a person with AIDS, who stands a higher risk of suffering from pneumonia. Two months after McKinney participated in the Great American Sleep-Out, he died of pneumonia. It is assumed that McKinney’s pneumonia was triggered by his decision to stay out in freezing weather for the Great American Sleep-Out. However, homelessness was so important to him that he was willing to take a risk to support this cause.

The Great American Sleep-Out is said to have propelled the passage of the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, as it attracted national recognition to the bill.

Click here to read the full story and learn more about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and homelessness advocate Representative Stewart McKinney.