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A History of Homelessness in America

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1 A History of Homelessness in America
Steve Carlson, Psy.D. Director of Supportive Housing Spectrum Community Mental Health, Minneapolis, MN Presentation from “Homelessness 101” - two day workshop Much 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. Humphrey George Santayana Albert 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 ( )

4 George Santayana

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 abode Poor Loss of social safety net Myriad of constitutional factors including Mental illness (55%) Substance abuse (23%) Chronic health condition (46%) None of the above (26%) Environmental factors

7 Multiple Causes of Homelessness
Societal Constitutional

8 Five distinct periods of homelessness
Colonial Period Urbanization Industrialization The Great Depression Contemporary 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 mobility Continuing territorial skirmishes Beginnings of business cycles Immigration

11 Urbanization (1820 – 1850) Homelessness increases sharply

12 Primary causes of homelessness
Railroads and telegraph introduce pervasive societal changes Mills, mines, and dock work offered employment but low job security Bumpy business cycles

13 Response by government
Minimalist policy Tramp room – 1853 25,000 used in six month period in NY Public Outdoor Relief Strict vagrancy laws

14 Civil War and Industrialization (1870 – 1900)
Homelessness dips significantly during the Civil War then spikes during subsequent economic depressions

15 Slavery General 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 in the nature of work types of jobs Deskilling Demeaning Dangerous – 1913 25,000 deaths 700,000 injured

18 Face of homeless after the Civil War “The Great American Hobo”
The hobo and “true” American ideals verses emerging capitalistic values Hobo’s labeled as “political agitators”

19 Main causes of homelessness
Veterans from the Civil War Emerging racism ~ Unequal access to jobs Unregulated capitalism Two severe economic downturns Unemployment near 40% Immigration Train 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 significantly 25% unemployment Families on the move in search of work Migrant workers from drought-ridden Midwestern States

22 Responses to homelessness
FDR’s New Deal CCC Federal Transient Service Charities in conflict about nature of homelessness Citizens involved “Impulsive almsgiving” Transient Home Kitchen Wisconsin, 1933

23 Home Ownership New 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 out 50% over 60 22% over 70 In 1962 42% lived in SRO’s at $3.35 per week Successfully housed! Given $5 and free advice at demolition Gateway District

27 Contemporary Period (1980–Present)
Homelessness no longer limited to skid row Homelessness increases sharply and continues to rise Multiple causes Deinstitutionalization Vietnam veterans

28 Wilder Research Turquoise = 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 Close From 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 Kamel in The Global Factory American Friends Service Committee.

34 The Worker/CEO Pay Gap In 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/yr Annual 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 need 2-Bedroom $33,920-15,080 = $18,840 unmet need Source: 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 US Source: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 $32 Youth shelter $125 Jail $363 Hospital $2800 Detox $192 Camping $16 (annual car sticker $28) Supportive housing $21

38 In 2012 & beyond Collaboration of agencies
Creativity in spectrum of housing options Public will - Educate the public about the systemic causes of homelessness Increase affordable housing stock Lobbying for government legislation

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