Tuesday, October 23, 2007

To End Homelessness

Nan Roman, leader of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and author of the "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness" in the U. S., met with a group of us here in Dallas last week. Fannie Mae convened the meeting. We continue to have many reasons to be grateful for Steven Bradley and his other associates here in the Dallas office of Fannie Mae.

Roman laid out an interesting, brief historical overview of the problem of homelessness in the U. S. She pointed out that prior to 1983, homelessness wasn't much of a problem in the nation. Her organization and, more recently, her plans emerged as a result of the growing national crisis.

She didn't say, but I couldn't help but wonder about causes for the rather sudden explosion of the number of homeless in America. Several things came to mind.

  • The Vietnam War and the thousands of veterans who returned unprepared for what greeted them. Side bar: a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist at Veteran's Hospital here in Dallas told me that 85% of his homeless patients suffer from post traumatic syndrome due to events that occurred prior to their military service--the military being their place of escape until their tenures of service ended.

  • The Reagan Era and its more draconian social benefits and programs built on the theories of supply-side economics.

  • De-institutionalizing mental health treatment and services across the nation.

  • Ironically, the "war on drugs" that has resulted in the incarceration of millions of men and women who likely needed treatment instead of what they received. Upon release countless of these people ended up on our streets with few options for work or housing.

  • The forces that have created a growing gap between the wealthy and the impoverished have also fueled the growth in the homeless population. Outsourcing of millions of better paying American jobs would be included here.

  • The disappearance of the old "boarding houses" that existed everywhere until the mid to late 1960s.

Since the early 1980s, service providers have responded to the growing problem of homelessness. By the late 1990s there were over 40,000 programs in the U. S. designed to address the issues of homelessness.

Ironically, the homeless population doubled! The proliferation of services does not equal a solution to the problem.

The folks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness are determined to bring the cruel numbers down. They rolled out the first version of their 10-year plan in 2000.

Among other tactics, they are promoting the benefits of developing permanent supportive housing rather than shelters or more services without housing.

There it is again, that notion that homeless people really need a place to call home.



john dobbs said...

Thank you, Larry. I think most of us have no idea what to do about it. It certainly is not on the agenda at most churches.

Odgie said...


You are certainly right about the war on drugs. Locking people up for using drugs is one of the most self-defeating policies in history.

Anonymous said...

Larry, I just became a member recently and just wanted to reach out in the matter discussed. I am a freelance homless advocate who is homeless as I write. I spend my days taking information from my brothers and sisters of the street and according to my resources and experience direct them from A-B instead of A-z. It is an exausting process to gain simple guidance in situations I see and live everyday. Being resourceful is paramount when in a situation that demands access to programs and persons who's word of referral actually holds weight in the community i.e Dallas County Welfare, or the S.S Office. And in those situations I don't need to speak to the dead receptionist, I need the supervising officer or caseworker for the day. Within 3 weeks I have gained quite a reputation with the National Coalition for the Homeless and have voiced my mission all the way to Washington. We need individuals who are familiar with the process. Combing through phone books and calling 211 isn't the solution of course. A change of heart and the stigma attached to my circumstance is. I am and will continue to be a voice for the beauty I see in my situation out here. There is no shame for me. If our public is so offended by the horror in the eyes of the homeless or mentally ill then change the face altogether. This I vow to fight for. I've met through the years some of the most sensitive, artistic, multi-layered, philosophical, soldiers of the street, survivors of parrel I'll ever meet. When a mean may only have one meal for the day and spends half his sandwich with the pigeons, how could not the hardest critic burst with compassion..A short quote of mine before I part.

"my inconvenient existance may be a glimpse of your eternal reward"

Truly Eric

Larry James said...

Eric, thanks for your comments! Great having you in our forum. Your wisdom is clear. I look forward to hearing more from you!