Public Comment

Ending Homelessness

by Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday August 24, 2010 - 03:03:00 PM

Between 2.3 to 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness and it is estimated that the recession will force another 1.5 million more people into homelessness. The 2010 Update of "Without Housing - Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures" by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), an update of its 2006 report, has arrived. 

(It can be downloaded at its website <>) In "Without Housing," WRAP sets forth a timeline of modern-day homelessness, the past three decades of policy failures, provides a look at present-day realities, gives grassroot approaches on how to get involved, and possible solutions.  

WRAP concludes that ending homelessness in the United States will require a serious recommitment by the federal government to create, subsidize and maintain truly affordable housing. It notes that the root cause of homelessness in the lack of affordable housing.  

WRAP traces the cause of the present housing crisis to the Reagan administration’s elimination of affordable housing funding and the dismantling of the social safety nets created by the New Deal. As a result, in the 1980s, under Reagan’s policies, homelessness reemerged throughout the United States.  

WRAP notes that recent homeless policy has focused on a series of underfunded, patchwork efforts that tend to pit sub-populations of people experiencing homelessness, service providers and advocates against each other in battles for meager funds. Rather than addressing homelessness by providing housing options at all income levels, homeless policy in the United States has devolved into byzantine formulas to count the number of homeless people and determine whether or not someone “qualifies” for eless housing and services.  

Unless we make a massive commitment to the construction and subsidization of affordable housing, homelessness will continue to grow no matter how many case managers or outreach workers we fund. We may alter the face of homelessness or shift its demographics through preferential outreach to particular sub-populations, but we will not change the underlying cause.  

WRAP recommends that the United States government provide more new affordable housing, better maintain existing public and subsidized housing, place a moratorium on the demolition of any public housing without an enforceable guarantee of one-for-one replace- ment with a right of return, develop constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness and ensure that all decisions impacting tenants in public and subsidized housing is made with full tenant participation and input.  

WRAP argues that until we recognize housing as a human right, we will not end mass homelessness in the United States. We cannot solve the systemic causes of poverty until we recognize that quality education, economic security, and health care are all essential human rights.  

The primary message of report then, is that building truly affordable housing and ensuring the human right to a home will end the contemporary crisis of mass homelessness in the United States. WRAP offers a grassroots approach to getting involved, and possible solutions to what has become the everyday crisis we know as homelessness. Change is desperately needed. Millions of people without shelter are depending on it.