It is with great sadness that Street Sense says goodbye to Michael Stoops, who passed away peacefully on the morning of May 1. Michael directed community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, which he helped found in the ’80s. No individual has been more committed to or instrumental in empowering people experiencing homelessness.
This trait put him on the national stage during the frigid winter of 1986 when Michael slept on the sidewalk grates of Washington with activist Mitch Snyder and others. They successfully urged Congress to pass the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which remains our government’s most significant financial response to homelessness. Food stamps, Section 8 housing, Health Care for the Homeless, community mental health services, education assistance and much more — all McKinney-Vento.
But this was only a moment in time. Michael had already been administering shelters and advocating around local issues in Oregon for a decade. He went on to create the Coalition’s Speakers Bureau, which trains and pays homeless and formerly homeless people to share their experiences with students, professionals and lawmakers. He instituted National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day more than 20 years ago to honor the lives of anyone who dies while homeless. He led an annual effort to track hate crimes against homeless people and tirelessly pushed for homeless bills of rights legislation. He was instrumental in the founding of Street Sense, a street newspaper in Washington, D.C., and fostered a network of collaboration among street papers across the country. Michael served on the Street Sense board for many years.
One of the Street Sense cofounders crashed on Michael’s couch when first moving to the District.
“The same couch that George Siletti slept on,” Ted Henson confided in a hospital hallway after visiting Michael. Siletti, who also recently passed away, was a dedicated member of the Coalition’s speakers bureau and published poetry in the early editions of Street Sense. Clearly Michael opened his heart and his home to many.
Yet he never asked for anything in return, except more work. Even though he was the kind of person with the kind of Rolodex that could get Susan Sarandon on a plane to Washington to demand congressional action on homelessness.
After suffering a major stroke in 2015, Michael continued to consult on Coalition efforts. In his wheelchair, he participated in the D.C. 2015 and 2016 National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day marches and interfaith services, which included accompanying advocates to lobby councilmembers in the Wilson Building. He was greeted with a near-standing ovation when he attended the Street Sense annual celebration last year to see artists perform.
In addition to lawmakers, Michael was also committed to educating the next generation on homelessness and the root inequalities that lead to it.
Coalition Speakers Bureau member Eric Sheptock wrote in an email that Michael would always introduce speakers by saying, “I’ve been doing this work for 40 years; and, if we don’t begin to do more than feed and shelter the homeless, then in 40 more years when all of you are my age, we’ll still be trying to end homelessness.”
It would be impossible to count the number of lives Michael has changed for the better. And he would never ask us to. But you can show it. In lieu of flowers or condolences, we are sure he would appreciate a well-crafted call or note to your senator, your representative, your city official or a person struggling on the street.
Rest in peace, Michael.
We love you.
Courtesy of Street Sense / INSP
Read the full May 24 issue.
Survey: Seattle homeless population is local, educated
ACLU offers site for homeless advocates
A light in the dark: Memorials across the US honor people who have died without a home