Archive for July 1st, 2009
Homelessness has been around pretty much since there were more people than homes (read: a long, long time). A number of national and economic events (anyone remember the Great Depression?) prompted bursts of homelessness from time to time, but local and federal authorities usually answered the need. Homelessness as we know it today surged around the 1980s.
Why the 80s? Good question.
Perhaps the most sensationalized – and one of the more controversial – cause of modern-day homelessness is deinstitutionalization.
The 1950s and 1960s saw a wave of activism against mental health institutions as reports of neglect, abuse, and mistreatment in such facilities became commonplace. The goal of deinstitutionalization was to move people who are mentally ill and disabled from these institutions into community-based health centers, where they would be fewer restrictions on patients and a lesser financial burden to federal and state coffers. (Popular opinion seems to fault President Reagan for deinstitionalization, but my own research has not validated that opinion.) Many argue that the effort has been unsuccessful, and that people who are mentally ill are now housed in the criminal justice system or are homeless altogether.
As a result, some say that deinstitutionalization, coupled with decreasing availability of affordable housing and economic fluctuations (and a plethora of other factors), caused the homeless population to rise considerably in the late 20th century.
As the homeless population grew, places where people were freely allowed to roam became more restricted: churches, public restrooms, libraries, museums – these places all closed their doors, hired security, and/or otherwise made efforts to reduce the number of homeless people in their buildings. This forced the homeless population to bridges, tunnels, parks, sidewalks – many of the places we see them today.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that since the 1980s, there have been efforts – though fragmented – to address, prevent, reduce, and ultimately end homelessness. And the even better news is that these fragmented efforts have started producing real results. Between 2005 and 2007, homelessness fell 10 percent. This is because we’ve finally started figuring out what works. We know how to end homelessness and sometimes how to prevent it altogether.
How, you ask? That’s another post.
In the meantime, let us know what you think about the role of deinstitutionalization on the homelessness population. How has it contributed to homelessness? Was it good/bad/horrible idea? What can we do about it – and the chronically homeless population?
Feel free to let us know.
Welcome to the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog!
Today is July 1 – what we are hoping is an auspicious day to start the blog.
Turns out, July 1 is also the day that:
- The Community Party of China is founded (1921).
- United Airlines begins service (1931).
- Sony introduces the Walkman (1979).
- O Canada becomes the national anthem of our northern neighbor (1980).
- Princess Diana, Missy Elliot, and Liv Tyler were born.
So the outlook looks mixed, but I’m hoping that like the Walkman, the blog will have a nice long reign and a secured place in American pop culture. (And who doesn’t love O Canada??)
So what are we talking about?
We’re talking about homelessness.
This blog will go over some broad themes of homelessness – the different populations, federal legislation, data and reports, etc. But along the way, we’ll talk about related, if tangential bits: specific demographics, new information, the relationship between homelessness and poverty, different advocacy groups and agencies…it’ll be a mash-up of good info.
And if you have any questions or requests for posts on particular subjects, don’t hesitate to comment or shoot me an email.
I really, really hope you like it.