December 16, 2006

Thoughts on Homelessness

Your comments on my recent post “On Being Homeless” made me think long and hard about homelessness. I remember helping a Congolese colleague get a visa for the States to attend a conference. When I asked him what he thought of North America, he professed being shocked at the number of homeless people there. Indeed, the United States is a well-organized country with wealth and social services and the idea of disenfranchised and abandoned people was appalling to him in that setting.

Some thoughts on homelessness...

How many homeless people are there in the United States?
From Wikipedia -

Total Number
As many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year (1% of the entire U.S. population or 10% of its poor), and about 842,000 people on any given day.

Familial composition
40% are families with children—the fastest growing segment.
41% are single males.
14% are single females.
5% are minors unaccompanied by adults.

Why are people homeless in the United States?
Well, there are many reasons. Sometimes it boils down to economic factors (people loose their jobs and cannot pay rent), other times it can be mental illness (people prefer living free and unconstrained instead of being forced to take medication).

How did homelessness become such a big issue here?
There are several events that precipitated homelessness to what it is today in the United States.

In the 1960, President Reagan signs the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act. The main idea behind this act is to take fragmented arrangement of separate, independent, and often noncommunicating, hospitals, clinics and agencies, and organized them into a service network called community mental health centers (CMHCs).

Except, these centers are crushed by the number of newly deinstitutionalized patients (also a Reagan legacy) and people on work-disability: patients that have little or no money to pay for health services. Due to tight budgets, external services are cut, leaving only the more basic services running.

Reagan decides to cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by three-quarters, from $32 billion in 1981 to $7.5 billion by 1988. In fact, the department’s role to give subsidized housing (housing of very low cost) for the poor.

Reagan also changes of tax codes. This reduces incentives for private developers to create low-income homes. Under Reagan, the number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 24.5 million in 1978 to 32.5 million in 1988.

Faced with community centers operating basic services and no subsidized or affordable housing, a large number of people found themselves on the street.

What do shelters provide?
From Wikipedia -

"Homeless shelters are temporary residences for homeless people. Usually located in urban neighborhoods, they are similar to emergency shelters. The primary difference is that homeless shelters are usually open to anyone, without regard to the reason for need. Some shelters limit their clientele by gender or age.

Most homeless shelters expect clients to stay elsewhere during the day, returning only to sleep, or if the shelter also provides meals, to eat; people in emergency shelters are more likely to stay all day, except for work, school, or errands. Some homeless shelters, however, are open 24 hours a day.

There are daytime-only homeless shelters, where the homeless can go when they cannot stay inside at their night-time sleeping shelter during the day. Such an early model of a daytime homeless shelter providing multi-faceted services is Saint Francis House in Boston, Massachusetts.

Homeless shelters are usually operated by a non-profit agency, or associated with a church. Many get at least part of their funding from local government entities. Shelters can sometimes be referred to as 'human warehouses'.

Homeless shelters sometimes also provide other services, such as a soup kitchen, job seeking skills training, job training, job placement, support groups, and/or substance (i.e., drugs and/or alcohol) abuse treatment. If they do not offer any of these services, they can usually refer their clients to agencies that do."

Why are homeless people not all in shelters
Well, often, shelters are full or refuse you based on your profile (perhaps you are a young white male and the shelter only accept mothers and children). Some people say that there is a large violence problem in shelters and they prefer sleeping in a busy street instead of being raped or robbed of their possessions.

When I lived in Japan, I saw large parks completely usurped by tents and man-made shacks where whole communities of homeless people would reside. They would also open the underground metro when the weather go particularly cold so people wouldn't die outside.

Why don't homeless people apply to job and go to interviews, like I do when I need a job?
From Wikipedia -

"Since most homeless people have no telephone, or fixed phone number or no personal phone number at all, no computer to access E-mail, no permanent address, or any place to get changed and washed, it can be difficult for a homeless person to apply for, find or even maintain a job; and without a job it can be difficult to raise the money or gain the references needed to acquire accommodation if governmental aid is not available or insufficient."


"In some homeless shelters and day centers, the homeless have access to a phone for making local calls, take a shower, and use a post office box at the shelter to receive mail, or sometimes can use a computer to access email. In many shelters and centers, they must signup on a first-come/first-serve list for such services, so it is not always possible to use a phone or have a shower in a timely fashion. The washing and laundering of dirty clothes, which frequently consists simply of the clothes on the person's body, presents an almost insurmountable problem, since many shelters do not provide laundry machines or services and using a public laundromat is not possible with only one set of clothes or lack of money to pay for the use of the laundromat."

What is a homeless person's daily routine? How does it feel to be homeless?
Well, I'm not quite sure. I think that it's important for homeless people to get about their day and fill it with normal activities like having two or three meals a day, going to the library, interacting with friends, going to see a movies etc...You would be surprised to find out that some homeless people are very well educated and have a family somewhere. This is the case for this homeless person who blogs about his daily life: The Homeless Guy

Where can I read more on this issue?
My sources are the following:

Democracy Now -

National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care -

Wikipedia -

Wikipedia -

Wikipedia -

Blog of a Homeless Man -


dedicris said...

This week the World Bank released a report titled “Global Economic Prospects 2007: Managing the Next Wave of Globalization.” The report says governments must make “pro-poor investments” in order to benefit from a world economy on the verge of being run by poor countries. But traditional investments -- money trying to make more of itself -- will flow naturally to the productive poor, not to the destitute poor.strudel

dedicris said...

dear Santa. I am not asking, but sending. I know your warehouse is empty, out of stock, due to widespread selfishness. I am sending you a pair of sport-shoes, that do not match with my feet and I wore a few times. Strudel

dedicris said...

ehy pppssttt Santa, it's me again. Do you take second-hand wives too? It happens I have gotten one who does not match with my...

Temper . Truly yours, Strudel

Anonymous said...

I know this is really going to sound silly, but one way to better understand what homelessness is like is to watch "the Pursuit of Happyness." It's a feel-good, Hollywood movie, and obviously watching homelessness on the movie screen when you know there's going to be a happy ending is not at all the same as experiencing it, or seeing it in the real world. But the movie did make me realize that homelessness isn't just an abstract thing that happens to other people. It's not at all romanticized in the movie (though they don't mention anything about rapes or violence).
I feel awful because it's like I'm plugging a movie (and worst of all I'm not even being paid for it :). Maybe you should wait until it's out on video, but it's worth watching IMO. Besides, I like happy endings :)

A-tony said...

After reading all these blogs about homeless, I feel kinda ashamed of myself. I volunteer at a charity, and one of my duty is to organize a monthly visit to homeless shelter. We serve meal and interact with them. Not only they have material needs but also they badly need people's attention. Because of school and works, I haven't done it for six months. Sigh~ anyway, I will see what I can do, once I finish my paper.

dedicris said...

A PINCH OF COMMUNISM TO CAPITALIST SOUP? First, you didn’t have to pay anything for your health support. No health insurances, no paid doctors, no need to save money for your new teeth. Everything is paid by government for you. You could visit any doctor in any part of Soviet state for free. You could live a whole life and don’t pay a penny for your health. Or how about going to college for free? Any high school student who graduated could go to a college, university or institute of his choice totally for free, of course if his knowledge level corresponded. Another thing – there were no poor people in terms of living on the street eating from trash bins and burning fires to warm themselves. Because all people were obliged to work and all jobs were in the hands of the state everybody worked and also because as I mentioned all the apartments belonged to the state – everybody had a place to live. But in general all the people, except top management of the Communist party, top scientists, top military man and other tops were poor if to compare with a middle class of any European country for that period of time(Timofey Kiselev) . Strudel

dedicris said...

STRUDEL MEETS HIMSELF. The man was sitting on the sidewalks, a paperbox with some few coins near him. A middle-aged white collar, wearing a tie. The man pretended to be a beggar, but had apparently no experience about. He was quiet and silent. A better location where to beg would have been the near underground station, but the man was too shy. A couple of years ago the man quit a safe job for a more interesting but risky one: the new company went bust, his wife asked for divorce and kicked him out of their house which happened to be under her name. His sons could, or would, give him just some random help. A friend was allowing the man to sleep out of season in his house on the sea. Some Christian Volunteers were visiting from time time the man who was in need of everything.
As soon as Strudel realized that he had met Himself in another life, became angry, gave the man some nice sweaters, shirts and ties, ordered to go looking for a whatever job.
But nobody would give the man a job. No Carol Lombard for my Godfrey. In our hard-hearted times spinters and widows prefer loneliness to a pennyless man. Soon afterwards Strudel left that town for good and all, but before leaving he asked his neighbours to take care of the man: they were of a middle-class, hubby&wife going to church on Sundays.Strudel didn't like the way they smiled in reply.
All this happened in Rome(Italy) not so many years ago in a street near San Peter's Church.

dedicris said...

STRUDEL MEETS BLACK GRANNY. Black Granny's Mansion was a dirty blanket and some sheets of thick paper. But Strudel is not sure Black Granny was really sleeping in her Mansion on the sidewalk, all what he could see at six o'clock in the morning were black rags sandwiched between the blancket and the thick papers. No face no legs no shoes. Everything would vanish before the opening of the first shop. Later in a sunny morning you could meet those black rags begging in the street from Vatican Museums to San Peter's Church, was it Black Granny inside those rags?
It was a top begging location anyway, Black Granny would get more the a salesman in his lucky day.

dedicris said...

1)During Industrial Revolution small trade unions (or sort of) in Western Europe pick weekly from komrade's pay and store for everybody's hard time.

2) Islam forbids banking loans and interests. As an alternative a cleric'c fatwa suggest friends should have their Piggy Bank. Every chap would put money into the Pig according to his income. The chap in need would break the pig and pick what he needs.

3) Save money. Do not buy gifts to rich Auntie (Asshole) Polly. The day you knock at her door, she will pretend she is not home.


Qalamana said...

Unfortuantelly, homeless people are everywhere... and that's specially sad during these days, ain't?

A-tony said...

Hello Doro,
Merry Christmas and Happy New year. I wish you find a good and well paid job in the comming new year. Also, Wish you stay healthy.