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How to Improve Homelessness

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How to improve Homelessness

Introduction

Homelessness is not new to our nation, and it has greatly increased over the past ten years. (Baum, 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. (Baum, 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 nighttime 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." (Baum, 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. (Burger, 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. (Baum, 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 the homeless people are 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. (Berger) They are found not only in cities, but in small towns, rural areas, and affluent suburbs. (Christian). Some even make up the "hidden homeless" (Christian), or people who are one crisis away from losing their homes for a variety of reasons, such as 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." (Berger)

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." (Christian)

In the United States, one of the most economically wealthy 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". (Christian) 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. (Berger) 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, (Baum, 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. (Baum, 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. (Baum, 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. (Baum, 70-89) After an intensive campaign, the legislation was passed by large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress in 1987. After

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