CCNV was founded in the 1970's by Father Guinan and a group of George Washington students as an expression of both faith and moral outrage. CCNV was their response to questions about justice and human rights during a time of war -- the Viet Nam war.
During the first months, CCNV's focus was on education and outreach. Through speakers and workshops, we tried to bring people together in an atmosphere of seriousness and dialogue. At the same time, we realized that words without action are like flesh without bones: they simply will not stand up. So while we continued to talk of peace and oppose the war in Southeast Asia, we also began to make peace with our neighbors. We opened a soup kitchen in 1972 and soon were feeding 200 to 300 homeless people a day, seven days a week.
Through the process of sharing our lives with the poor, we were able to discern and respond to more of their needs. We realized that people who are in need of a bowl of soup may also lack basic shelter and adequate medical care and may need assistance with negotiating various bureaucracies. Therefore, in addition to the soup kitchen, CCNV soon opened two hospitality houses, as well as a medical clinic. In retrospect, these efforts appear modest, but they were a reflection of our limited resources at the time and our best understanding of the needs of the homeless people.
In December 1976, we began in earnest the task of securing adequate, accessible space, offered in an atmosphere of reasonable dignity, for every man, woman, and child in need of shelter. In committing ourselves to that task, we have also committed ourselves to putting spiritual and physical resources into an unfolding struggle whose dimensions have grown dramatically.
A protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House - dubbed "Reaganville" - brought the presence of unsheltered people closer to the center of power and became a symbol of the great discrepancy in values in our nation. In 1982, CCNV helped organize and participated in the first congressional hearings on homelessness in America in nearly 50 years. Follow-up hearings occurred at the CCNV's Federal City Shelter in 1984. Since that time, CCNV has helped organize and participated in dozens of House and Senate hearings on homelessness and hosted a hearing in 1993 that foreshadowed the introduction of the D.C. Homeless Initiative.
On November 4, 1984, after Mitch Snyder's highly-publicized fast and CCNV's aggressive campaign, President Reagan ordered the renovation of the Federal City Shelter. With the 1988 completion of the $14 million renovation, the 1,350-bed Federal City Shelter is the largest and most comprehensive facility of it's kind in America. In November, 1984, D.C. voters passed the CCNV-sponsored Initiative 17-"The D.C. Right to Overnight Shelter Act of 1984." Passage of the Act, with more than 70 percent of the vote, marked the first time that voters in America created a legal right to shelter for the homeless people. For over a decade CCNV has made visible the hunger in this land of plenty by sponsoring an annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless in the shadow of the seats of power-originally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, then on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
Beginning in November 1986, members of CCNV lived outside on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol during a five-month campaign for passage of The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Our presence, along with other shelter providers, propelled the April 1987 passage of the Act which authorized $1 billion in aid to unsheltered people. In the Fall of 1988, just prior to the Presidential election, 12 activists, led by members of CCNV, began a 48-day water-only fast to focus attention on the lack of domestic agenda by either party. Activists from around the nation came to express their concern through six weeks of daily acts of civil disobedience at the Capitol.
CCNV also played a leading role in the organization of the National Housing now march. On October 7, 1989, 200,000 people from around the nation marched on the U.S. Capitol to demand affordable housing.
Today, we are able to provide up to 2,500 poor and homeless people a day with food, shelter, clothing, medical care, case management, educational support, and art programs. decades later, the needs of the poor and the concerns of CCNV have not changed.