They say America is home of great innovation, of financial, political, and military power. Home of the brave and land of the free. But this great country is earning another reputation; home of the homeless. A few months ago, the BBC reported Portland, Oregon mayor Ted Wheeler as not only highlighting that even though the American "economy has never been stronger," its benefits "are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands."
Portland, Oregon isn't alone. Even thriving cities like Seattle and San Francisco have noted increases in homelessness in the face of an influx of educated and skilled workers. And while these three states (Washington, Oregon, California - the worst among them) have seen the sharpest spikes in homelessness, their tales are nothing new to states like Texas, New York, and Florida where homelessness and poverty statistics rank among the highest in the country. With 25 years of experience in community and economic development, Denise Hamet, is using her knowledge and skills to help decrease the problem of homelessness. Here, she explores the issue:
History of Homelessness
Homelessness in America isn't new. Since it first became a national issue following the Great Depression of the 1930s, the problem has only deepened and set off alarms across the nation. Despite the awareness of homeless living in shantytowns in the thirties, it wasn't until the 1960's that academia placed a statistical number on homelessness, providing a baseline so that, by the mid-sixties when psychiatric hospitals began deinstitutionalizing their patients, those numbers could only skyrocket. And they have.
The Only Government Act is Insufficient
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which Ronald Reagan signed into law in the 1980s, underlines just how severe homelessness in America had become. As a hot spot on the political landscape, the Washington Post reports regularly on just how important this issue has become. In 2015, for example, the Washington Post reported that homelessness in at least 10 cities and counties led them to declare states of emergency. Studies conducted by U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless have also found that leaving a person to remain chronically homeless costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year. Already, California reports that more than 23% of its population experiences homelessness. That's nearly one in every four in California alone.
The Link Between Economics and Homelessness in America
While a clear relationship exists between the economic cycle and homelessness, consider the role of the Federal government in tackling this national issue. With Reagan's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act being the primary federal initiative, it's crucial that Congress and the Federal Government take action. Our last economic recession, prompted by the 2008-2009 financial crisis, saw poverty rates climb from under 12.5% in 2007 to above 15% after 2010. As recently as February 2019, the Washington Post suggested that poverty in the US has reached 13 million people. The rising cost of rent also necessitates that people spend more money on housing, which puts more people at risk.
To reduce homelessness, there are various strategies that we can take. For instance, homelessness can be cut with a long-term funding plan, data collection, increasing the supply of affordable housing, and improving/expanding social services. Funding at all levels is essential- local, regional, and federal; and comprehensive regulatory policy driving increases in affordable housing, coupled with increasing wages to bring people out of poverty is a crucial step as well.
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