Understanding three decades of homeless-creating policy and what we can all do to change it
By Israel Bayer
and Monica Beemer
It’s hard to cut through the never-ending news cycles that bombard us daily to deliver a message. If your organization lacks resources and political clout, it becomes even harder to be heard. If the message has anything to do with human rights and homelessness, forget about it.
In a time when many Americans find themselves on the brink of economic collapse, individuals and families are looking at a horizon dotted with issues that affect their way of life but feel absolutely powerless to do anything about it.
The media, in all its forms, delivers headlines by the second about natural disasters, the global economy and soldiers who die fighting for a war we barely understand. Meanwhile, in households from Peoria to Portland, the realities of daily life set in; loss of jobs, massive foreclosures, and the loss of unemployment benefits — ultimately, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, the loss of any safety net whatsoever. Homelessness.
In 1979, the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $77.3 billion in today’s dollars developing and maintaining housing to ensure all people could afford a place to live. Yet since 1995, the federal government has done nothing while more than 500,000 of these units have been lost, and an additional 335,000 could disappear this year.
In 2009, roughly 3.4 million families experienced foreclosures — 60 percent caused by unemployment. This year, as many as 3.5 million people will experience homelessness in the United States — a number that has been increasing since the Wall Street collapse and government bailout of the banks, and in the midst of the Bush administration’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. To put this into perspective, the federal government’s discretionary military spending is at $663.8 billion dollars.
The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a group of grassroots homeless organizations based in California and Oregon is releasing an in-depth updated version of “Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures.”
The popular report was first released in 2006, and has been a become a staple for politicians, scholars, think-tanks, poverty organizations and the general public to track the rise of modern-day homelessness. From the Ronald Reagan era in the 1980s, when the federal government dismantled the social safety net, to the present day, the report outlines the past three decades of policy failures that have led us to this point.