Presentation on theme: "A History of Homelessness in America"— Presentation transcript:
1 A History of Homelessness in America Steve Carlson, Psy.D.Director of Supportive HousingSpectrum Community Mental Health, Minneapolis, MNPresentation from “Homelessness 101” - two day workshopMuch of the material was gleaned from a book by Ken Kusmer "Down and Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History".Homelessness 101
2 Why is this topic important? Hubert H. HumphreyGeorge SantayanaAlbert Einstein
3 “It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”Hubert H. Humphrey ( )
5 “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them”Albert Einstein
6 Who is Homeless and Why? What the homeless have in common No fixed abodePoorLoss of social safety netMyriad of constitutional factors includingMental illness (55%)Substance abuse (23%)Chronic health condition (46%)None of the above (26%)Environmental factors
7 Multiple Causes of Homelessness SocietalConstitutional
8 Five distinct periods of homelessness Colonial PeriodUrbanizationIndustrializationThe Great DepressionContemporary Period
9 Colonial Period Beliefs & Attitudes Puritan culture & work ethic, rugged individualism “Wandering beggars & rogues are a plague to civil society. They should be taken as enemies of this ordinance of God”William Perkins
10 Primary causes of homelessness Agricultural society required skilled and unskilled worker mobilityContinuing territorial skirmishesBeginnings of business cyclesImmigration
12 Primary causes of homelessness Railroads and telegraph introduce pervasive societal changesMills, mines, and dock work offered employment but low job securityBumpy business cycles
13 Response by government Minimalist policyTramp room – 185325,000 used in six month period in NYPublic Outdoor ReliefStrict vagrancy laws
14 Civil War and Industrialization (1870 – 1900) Homelessness dips significantly during the Civil Warthen spikes during subsequent economic depressions
15 SlaveryGeneral Sherman promised “40 acres and a mule” to freed slaves. In the end less than 1%, about 3,500, received their allotment.With very few African Americans able to gain land and assets to give to their children, there is now a home ownership gap where 27% more whites have homes than African Americans (up from 23% in 1940).Sources: Freedmen, The Freed Slaves of the Civil War.Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) and The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP)Sources: Freedmen, The Freed Slaves of the Civil War.Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) and The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP)
16 Institutionalized Racism as a cause of homelessness The U.S. government has broken land treaties with Native Americans and put them into reservations without sufficient resources and opportunities to find jobs, housing, and a better life.In Minnesota there is a lack of shelter and housing that is culturally appropriate for Native Americans.
17 Unregulated capitalist economy Changes inthe nature of worktypes of jobsDeskillingDemeaningDangerous – 191325,000 deaths700,000 injured
18 Face of homeless after the Civil War “The Great American Hobo” The hobo and “true” American ideals verses emerging capitalistic valuesHobo’s labeled as “political agitators”
19 Main causes of homelessness Veterans from the Civil WarEmerging racism ~ Unequal access to jobsUnregulated capitalismTwo severe economic downturnsUnemployment near 40%ImmigrationTrain hoppers ~ expansion of railroad
20 The Great Depression Black Thursday, October 24, 1929 “Breadline – No One Has Starved” by Reginald Marsh, 1932
21 From tramp to transient Homelessness increases significantly25% unemploymentFamilies on the move in search of workMigrant workers from drought-ridden Midwestern States
22 Responses to homelessness FDR’s New DealCCCFederal Transient ServiceCharities in conflict about nature of homelessnessCitizens involved“Impulsive almsgiving”Transient Home KitchenWisconsin, 1933
23 Home OwnershipNew Deal programs helped white people become homeowners, but African Americans were considered financial risks and not given loans and federal money to become suburban homeowners. Of the $120 billion of government backed loans to new homeowners between , 98% went to white people.Source: Racial Preferences for Whites: The Houses that Racism Built. Larry Adelman, San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 2003
24 Causes of Homelessness Severe economic instability Immigration Migration from “Dust Bowl”“Grapes of Wrath”WWII – homelessness decreases
25 Skid row community Camaraderie Story telling Casual labor Lobby of cheap lodging house, 1962
26 Minneapolis skid row demolition In 1958 men aging out50% over 6022% over 70In 196242% lived in SRO’s at $3.35 per weekSuccessfully housed!Given $5 and free advice at demolitionGateway District
27 Contemporary Period (1980–Present) Homelessness no longer limited to skid rowHomelessness increases sharply and continues to riseMultiple causesDeinstitutionalizationVietnam veterans
28 Wilder ResearchTurquoise = Count Blue = Estimate
29 Main causes of homelessness 1973: Wages Peak In 1973, the average private, non-supervisory, non-agricultural wage reached an all time high of $ By 1983, adjusting for inflation, the same worker was paid $8.76 per hour. (1)Source: The Alliance Report. March – April, Volume #1, Issue #1. Minneapolis
30 Source: Western Regional Advocacy Program, 2007.
31 1980-1983: Federal programs for poor people are cut Between 1980 and 1983 alone, $140 billion in domestic spending was cut.HUD, unemployment, disability, food stamps, and Family welfare programs all received cuts.Source: Open House.A news update from St. Stephen’s Human Services. Holiday Minneapolis.
32 Union Strength Declines In 1981 the Federal Government broke the Air Traffic Controller’s Strike by firing over 11,000 employees, beginning a trend of unions losing leverage to demand fair wages and benefits.Lack of unions and more service sector jobs make people spend more of their income on healthcare, daycare, etc.[i] USA Today Fired air-traffic controller still feels the sting decades later.[i] USA Today Fired air-traffic controller still feels the sting decades later.
33 : Factories CloseFrom January 1981 to January 1986, “10.8 million workers lost their jobs due to plant closures, abolition of positions or shifts, or slack work”.Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. As cited by Rachel Kamelin The Global Factory American Friends Service Committee.
34 The Worker/CEO Pay GapIn 1980, the gap between the highest and average paid worker was 42:1.By 2000, the ratio spiked to 531:1.Source: Chuck Collins & Felice Yeskel, Economic Apartheid in America .
35 Rental Rates and Income Minimum Wage in Minnesota is $7.25/hour which equals $15,080/yrAnnual income needed to afford a one bedroom FMR apt: $27,960. A two bedroom: $33,920.1-Bedroom:$27,960-15,080 = $12,880 unmet need2-Bedroom$33,920-15,080 = $18,840 unmet needSource: National Low Income Housing Coalition
36 Affordable Housing/Gentrification Housing should cost no more than 30% of a household’s annual income: 2.2 million low-rent units disappeared from the market: median rental costs rose 21%HUD has stopped building public housing and housing projects are being demolished across USSource:National Coalition for the Homeless (2008). Why are people homeless? Retrieved October 19th, 2008 from,Source:National Coalition for the Homeless (2008). Why are people homeless? Retrieved October 19th, 2008 from,
37 Per night costs of Homelessness Adult shelter $32Youth shelter $125Jail $363Hospital $2800Detox $192Camping $16 (annual car sticker $28)Supportive housing $21
38 In 2012 & beyond Collaboration of agencies Creativity in spectrum of housing optionsPublic will - Educate the public about the systemic causes of homelessnessIncrease affordable housing stockLobbying for government legislation