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Special report:How We Live
and the Economy
Seattle Homelessness Report on a local judge's ruling that the homeless can't be ousted from camps and settlements until the city provides realistic shelter alternatives. 07.28.99
for the Holidays
NewsHour Extra: Counting Our People: A look at results of Census 2000 10.31.01
Homeless in America Posted:12.11.02
Federal and local agencies are struggling to help a growing number of families forced out of their homes by an unsteady economy and quickly rising housing prices.
Cities around the country are reporting record numbers of homeless people entering shelters or sleeping on the streets.
As a faltering U.S. economy, skyrocketing housing prices and reduced government services force people from their homes, agencies are scrambling to find ways to provide shelter and assistance to a growing and changing homeless population.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates some 3 million men, women and children will be homeless for at least some part of 2002.
"I suspect it is going to be a record increase this year, as it was last year," Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the organization said in a Washington Post interview. "And it really does have to do with the economy, mainly loss of jobs and loss of wage-earning power."
An unexpected rise
The face of homelessness has drastically changed throughout the years. In the 1980s, thousands of individuals from the nation's public psychiatric hospitals were discharged, leaving many of the country's mentally ill without homes. This gave rise to a popular misconception, however, that led many to think all homeless people were mentally ill or suffered from drug or alcohol abuse problems. Oftentimes, homeless people were portrayed as lazy and unclean.
But today, more working and middle class families face the prospect of living on the streets.
The Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency in charge of housing issues, released the most complete report on homelessness in the U.S. The report, "The Forgotten Americans - Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve," revealed that some 11 million Americans have "worst case" housing needs, putting them at a high risk of homelessness. Many are either spending over half of their paycheck on housing -- often doubled up with others in overcrowded conditions -- or live in houses that are falling apart.
Attempts to Diminish the Problem
Local and national agencies are seeking more creative means to combat homelessness, although not all are popular. In New York, where a record number of people are homeless, a judge blocked Mayor Michael Bloomberg's request to use an abandoned Bronx jail as housing.
More recently, Bloomberg proposed using retired cruise ships docked at city piers as shelters, an idea that troubled advocates for the homeless.
''It's disturbing,'' Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless told the New York Times. ''Putting outcast people offshore -- there's something punitive about it.''
A more likely solution is placing more emphasis on permanent housing. Under HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, the agency adopted a "Housing First" policy and created a federal grant initiative called the SRO, or Single Room Occupancy, program. The program gives money to public agencies to fix single room housing units in an attempt to provide a more permanent alternative to traditional shelters. Martinez says he would like to see the end of chronic homelessness within the next ten years.
"For many years, Washington focused on intervention when it came to homelessness," Martinez said.
"The assumption was that intervention was more important than prevention. Until now, government was misdiagnosing the condition and prescribing inadequate medicine."
One of the strongest federal attempts to end homelessness is to strengthen the already existing Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the only major federal law concerning homelessness. That act provides money for emergency shelters, health care and job training, as well as education for homeless children.
This year, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island introduced a new bill, the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act of 2002, which would create a more united plan of providing increased funding at the community level.
"We want to provide adequate resources, emphasize the continuity of care, and hopefully not institutionalize homelessness in America, but end it," Reed said.
Politicians and social workers looking for ways to end homelessness know that there are no easy answers, especially when many Americans notice the problem only when the weather turns cold and the situation more desperate.
"No one wants to see homeless people suffering in the cold, but effective solutions are not easy," Arnold Cohen, president of Partnership for the Homeless, said.
-- By Raven Tyler, NewsHour Extra
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