Homelessness In Our Nation Introduction Homelessness is not new to our nation, and it has greatly increased over the past ten years. (Hombs, 1-4) For growing numbers of people, work provides little, if any, protection against homelessness. Low national un-employment levels do not mean that all working people are well-off. (Blau, 21-24) What is homelessness? According to the definition stated by Stewart B. McKinney, for purposes of the 1987 McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, "a homeless person (homelessness)is one who lacks a fixed permanent nightime residence, or whose nighttime residence is a temporary shelter, welfare hotel, or any public or private place not designed as sleeping accommodations for human beings." (Blau, 8) A rather deceptive definition when one considers the fact that homelessness is not a natural state, but one created and maintained by political agendas. Our government is not doing all that it can to combat our nation's homelessness. In 1987, the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was put into law.
(Hombs, 68-83) However, our government has moved away from the need to address the causes of homelessness. Instead our government has focused on the individual responsibility of those who become homeless, blaming their misfortune as their own fault. (Blau, 5-9) It is this belief that has helped to increase the homelessness of our nation, and it is this belief that will continue to do so if our government does not take a closer and more realistic look at the causes behind homelessness in our nation. Unless our government commits to ending homelessness through public education, policy advocacy, and technical assistance, homelessness will become a national disaster for the United States. Right now our government is not doing all it can towards putting into place the necessary solutions to combat homelessness.
Who are/where are the homeless people Many of the homeless have completed high school. Some have completed college. Some are AIDS victims, many are the elderly, many are children, some are disabled vets, some are illegal immigrants, and many of the homeless hold down full-time jobs. (Blau, 21-30) They are found not only in cities, but in small towns, rural areas, and affluent suburbs. (Kroloff, 1993). Some even make up the "hidden homeless" (Kroloff, 1993), or people who are one crisis away from losing their homes for a variety of reasons, such as a sudden medial emergency or unforeseen health problems.
Recent statistics have found the following "trends: 1. ..the homeless are young people 2. Minority groups are represented 3. Families with children constitute approximately 35 percent of the homeless 4. ..working people account for an average of 30 percent of the homeless 5. ..homelessness is found to be a chronic and recurring event." (Hombs, 5) Why do people become homeless Alarming statistics challenge the persistent stereotypes of why people become homeless.
Stagnating wages, lack of health insurance, domestic violence, changes in social services and welfare programs, cuts in benefit programs, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps and Elderly Assistance, single parent families, drug addiction, mental health problems, natural disasters, job displacement due to military actions, and affordable housing shortages account for increasing poverty among American families. It is also believed that "the distance between the middle and lower classes has begun to shrink dramatically; middle-class households now experience the problem as an inability to afford owning a home, just as homelessness has increased dramatically." (Hoch/Slayton, 253) In the United States, one of the most economically prosperious nations on earth, our government has organized our public and private institutions in such a manner that mass homelessness is one of the "normal" outcomes. For example, because of the gap between the cost of housing and what people with low incomes can afford to pay for it, a growing number of people are excluded from having an adequate and secure place to live. "Local housing policy..like national policy, has been criticized as a cause of homelessness, because of (1) the redevelopment and conversion of poor urban areas and low-income housing into middle-class neighborhoods and commercial areas, and (2) a failure to provide new low- income housing". (Greenblatt/Robertson, 9) For some, this is a temporary situation, for some an occasional situation, but for many it is a long-term situation.
Government and homeless people During the Reagan Administration, homelessness was viewed as a problem that did not necessitate federal intervention. In 1983, the first federal task force on homelessness was created to provide information to local communities on how to obtain surplus federal property. However, The task force did not address homelessness through policy actions. (Blau, 109-132) In the following years, advocates around the nation demanded that the federal government acknowledge homelessness as a national problem requiring a national response. As a result, in 1986, the Homeless Persons' Survival Act was introduced in both houses.
The act contained emergency relief measures, preventive measures, and long term solutions to homelessness. However, only small pieces of this proposal, were enacted into law. The first, the Homeless Eligibility Clarification Act of 1986, (Hombs, 67) removed permanent address requirements and other barriers to existing programs such as Supplemental Security Income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Veterans Benefits, Food Stamps, and Medicaid. Also in 1986, the Homeless Housing Act was adopted. (Hombs, 67) This legislation created the Emergency Shelter Grant program and a transitional housing program, which were administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD. (Blau, 16) In late 1986, legislation containing Title I of the Homeless Persons' Survival Act, emergency relief provisions for food, shelter, mobilized health care, and transitional housing, was introduced as the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act.
(Hombs, 70-89) After an intensive campaign, the legislation was passed by large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress in 1987. After the death of its sponsor, Stewart B.McKinney, the act was re-named the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. It was signed into law by the reluctant President,Ronald Reagan, on July 22, 1987. The 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was the first, and only, major federal legislative response to homelessness.
(Blau, 112-114) The McKinney Act originally consisted of fifteen programs that provided a range of services to the homeless. The services included job training, education, emergency shelter, transitional housing, primary health care, and a limited amount of permanent housing. The McKinney Act has been amended numerous times, with the 1990 amendments including the Shelter Plus Care program, which provided housing assistance to the homeless with disabilities, mental illness, AIDS, and drug/alcohol addictions, and a program within the Health Care for the Homeless to provide primary health care and outreach to at-risk homeless children. (Levy, 360-368) Also in 1990, the Community Mental Health Services program was amended and re-named as: the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program. The 1990 amendments more clearly outlined the obligations of states and local educational agencies in assuring public education of homeless children and youth.
(Kryder-Coe, 81-85) Unfortantely, even with the passage of the McKinney Act, and the amendments to it, the causes of homelessness have not been adequately addressed. The 1994 goal of the Interagency Council on the Homeless was to achieve the goal of 'a decent home and a suitable living environment' for every American. ( Hombs, 131-132) The President called for increasing housing subsidies and repairing the damage caused by the misguided and harmful housing budget cuts of the 1980s. (Hombs, 132) However, the President's Fical Year 96, 97, and 98 budgets maintained the cuts to housing programs made by Congress. President Reagan believed that "the homeless are on the streets by choice and prefer this to ...