Since massive cuts to federal low-income housing programs, starting in the 1970's, homelessness has developed as the tragic consequence of failed social policy. Official numbers say that 500,000 people are on the streets and in emergency shelters each night, as well as an additional 500,000 formerly homeless folks in supportive housing. But emergency shelter, and other housing options, are extremely limited. Today, our cities are seeing many forced to live in makeshift encampments.
Ending homelessness will depend on reducing poverty in America. Other factors contribute to the crisis: the lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, barriers to mental health services and substance abuse treatment, and a broken health care system to name a few. Yet such challenges pose the greatest hardships for poor people who lack the resources to manage these extra burdens. We need a new campaign on homelessness and poverty in America. The timing is right, given widespread discontent.
In the 1980s, homelessness once energized a vibrant social movement that confronted rising inequality during the Reagan era. In the intervening years, this grassroots energy dissipated into the implementation of the McKinney Act homeless programs that were won through that activism. Now we are on the cusp of another debate about income inequality in America. Empowering the homelessness sector as a force for progress will bring real improvement in the health of our communities.
This project has provided additional documentation in a Microsoft Word file (projdoc.doc).