Homelessness in America
Social Program: Public Housing
The issue of homelessness is one that I can relate to all too well. About twenty five years ago I found myself among the homeless. My story is simple, I had no formal education and was working a job making minimum wage. I couldn’t keep up with my rent and other living expenses and was finally evicted from my overpriced apartment. At the time I was on a waiting list for public housing for which there was at least a two year waiting period. The fact that I was single, with no children did not help me either. For a while I lived on the streets and in shelters, too ashamed to approach what family members I had with my problems knowing that they were struggling as well. Eventually I received emergency housing in a single room only establishment (SRO) through public assistance and was eventually able to get back on my feet. I then decided that I would change the quality of my life and returned to school for my first undergraduate degree. However, the truth is even with my higher level of education, I am living one paycheck or one mishap away from being homeless once again.
History on Homelessness
According to Marjorie McIntosh, (1998), homelessness can be traced as far back as the 1500’s England following the peasant’s revolt. However, modern day homelessness began as a result of economic stresses in society and the reduction of the availability of affordable housing in America. The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was also a pre-disposing factor in setting the stage for homelessness in America as many of the mentally ill were released from state psychiatric hospitals and made up a large percentage the homeless population especially in New York City. The number of homeless grew in the 1980’s as housing and social service cuts increased. Subsequently, public compassion grew and in 1986, five million Americans joined hands across the country to raise money for the homeless programs (May 25, 1986 Hands Across America). Now, more than 20 years later homelessness is essentially ignored by the mainstream press and the general public while the numbers affected continue to grow. Poverty is a huge contributing factor to the state of homelessness, these two are inevitably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food or health care and the choices that they must make with their limited resources usually leaves very little to pay rent which represents the greatest part of one’s income outlay. According to the 2000 census, 11% of the U.S population or 31 million people lived in poverty, and the majority of people affected by homelessness were adult males and families headed by single mothers. Economists believe that the consistent variable in America’s homeless history is linked to economic performance. They believe that when business cycles turn downward and the economy falters, people get cut off from their livelihood (Tull, 1992).
Every wave of homelessness in the United States has been associated with a negative attitude towards the homeless. The negativity is usually expressed in legislation such as vagrancy laws, and personal attitudes and is promoted by the dominant culture value which has a distaste for laziness. There is also a relationship between addiction and homelessness. Alcohol and drug abuse rates are high among people who are poor and addicted, and they are at an increased risk of finding themselves homeless. The abuse of alcohol by the homeless began to receive attention following the civil war (Baumohl, 1996) and they received more negative press than services. Following the great depression, homelessness was associated almost exclusively with alcoholic single men found on various skid rows. Services to this population were almost entirely supplied by charities and faith-based programs. In the 1980’s, as homelessness was increasingly recognized by the public and...
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