"Homelessness: Describing the Symptoms, Prescribing a Cure"

Report Poverty and Inequality

"Homelessness: Describing the Symptoms, Prescribing a Cure"

October 2, 1989 20 min read Download Report
Sam Kazman
(Archived document, may contain errors)

729 October 2,19 89 INTRODUCI'ION Thousands of compassionate Americans will march on Washington October 7th to draw attention to the strategy that they believe will win the war on homelessness. Their prescription: a massive increase in federal money to help construct hous ing. Their slogan: "Housing NOW!"

The organizers are amply funded and confident of success. With Hollywood stars and politicians flocking to their cause, and with the AFLCIO, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, and the Villers Foundation of Washington , D.C picking up the $1.5 million tab, they hope to stage the media event of the year.

The marchers surely are well-meaning. But their strategy is badly flawed.

Thus if their demands are met by Congress, the ironic result will be a tragic defeat for homeless Americans. The reason is that the homeless problem is not due to a lack of housing.

Ignoring the Cause. To be sure, a homeless person obviously needs a home. But this facile observation overlooks the reason that the homeless have no home. Simply dema nding more housing for the homeless is like saying that a person with a fever can be cured with a cold bath to bring down the temperature and ignoring the infection causing the fever.

A massive new program of subsidized housing would do nothing to help th e majority of the homeless because it would ignore the disabilities preventing the homeless from taking advantage of existing forms of housing assistance. It also would do little to aid those few among the homeless who do owe their condition to economic f a ctors. Special Interest Support. Those who would gain most from a new federal house building program are not the homeless, but construction companies and their employees. It should come as no surprise that these powerful special interests, at fault for pa rt of the homeless problem, self-servingly and cynically support the march on Washington.

Recent studies provide accurate, new information about the size and nature of the homelessness problem and- it is a very different picture from that painted by many a dvocates for the homeless.'First, the total number of America's homeless is .between 250,000 and 600,000; most are single men.

Second, the majority of homeless are severely impaired by either mental illness, long-term drug and alcohol abuse, or a combination of the two. Third a homeless person typically suffers frdm a lack of education and, in more than half of all cases, has a criminal record. And fourth the relatively small share of those homeless because of economic factors are mor e likely to be victims of local than of national policies.

Addressing the Source. What these statistics tell legislators is clear: if lawmakers truly want to help the homeless they should ignore the clamor for still more funding of wasteful, scandal-prone housing production programs.

Instead, they should reallocate existing funds. to help communities address homelessness at its source. This means moving quickly to local care providers maximum discretion and flexibility in addressing the needs of homeless r esidents Provide proper care for the large number of mentally ill homeless by enforcing the provisions of the 1963 Community Mental Health Centers Act Make the homeless eligible .for special housing vouchers, to. be used to meet their unique housing needs Encourage the states to propose to .Washington innovative solutions to homelessness, and press the White House to remove the federal red tape impeding such state initiatives; and out of municipal rent control policies and the streamlining.of construction regulations.

Jack Kemp, have announced their commitment to helping the homeless through direct government action and by stimulating private activity. In a speech last month in Hartford, Connecticut, for example, Kemp announced plans to make more HUD-forecl osed properties available for purchase by care providers for the homeless. He also heralded a new public-private partnership between HUD and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This will award almost $M'niillion~ixi'housing 'ksistance and special grants t o cities that design comprehensive homeless programs emphasizing health and transitional services Combine McKinney Act funds into a $746 million block grant, to give Make continued federal housing assistance contingent on the phasing George Bush and his Ho u sing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary 2 While introducing such initiatives, the Administration must resist being diverted by those lawmakers and housing lobbyists who are using the homeless issue as a cover for giving away yet more billions of dollar s to the housing industry. The task for the Administration and the nation is to eradicate the cause of homelessness, not merely to create new programs that enrich special interests WHO ARE THE HOMELESS Perhaps no aspect of homelessness has been as clouded b y myth and mystery as the identity of the homeless themselves. As several activists for the homeless now admit, this confusion is due largely to efforts to portray a typical homeless person as someone who will be sympathetic to middle America. The press a n d television coverage of homelessness generally accepts this portrayal. A study of media coverage published this March, for instance, finds that only 25 percent of the homeless featured in major print or broadcast stories were identified as unemployed, an d only 7 percent were identified as drug or alcohol abusers -figures significantly at odds with major surveys.

The fact is, the homeless are not typical Americans.They have special needs and usually chronic health problems. The only way to craft an effecti ve national homeless policy is to start by recognizing the scale of the problem and the characteristics of those whom that policy is intended to benefit.

Among the key facts lawmakers need to understand 1) There are between 250,000 and 600,000 homeless Am ericans as many as 6 million. Scientific studies put the real figure at a fraction of these numbers. The first systematic nationwide study, undertaken by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and released in 1984 estimated the number of homeless at between 250,000 and 300,000? Two years later, a report by the Nttional Bureau of Economic Research found 343,000 to 363,000 homeless. The most recent national study, released last I 2 Homeless activists claim that there are at least 3 million homeless s ome 1 Gina Kolata, Twins of the Streets: Homelessness and Addiction, The New Yo& limes, May 22,1989 2 S. Robert Lichter and Linda S. Lichter, eds The Viible Poor: Media Coverage of the Homeless Z9&%1989 Center for Media and Public Mairs, March 1989 p. 6 3 Department of Housbg and Urban Development, A Report to the Secretary on the Homeless and Emergency Shelters (Washington, D.C Ofice of Policy Development and Research, 1984 4 Richard B. Freeman, Permanent Homelessness in America? Population Research and P o licy Review, 1987 3 year by the Urban Institute, puts the count between 567,000 and 600,000 and then cautions that this number probably overestimates the size of the homeless pop~lation There is no statistical basis for any of the seven-figure estimates o f homelessness so often reported by the media. Activist Mitch Snyder of Washington,;D.C when pressed by .Congress to validate his assertion that there are between two million and three million homeless; confessed that these numbers are in fact meaningless. When asked why he uses meaningless numbers, Snyder told a congressional panel that he was trying to satisfy your gnawing curiosity for a number 2) Between 80 percent and 90 percent of single homeless adults are male 10 percent of homeless households are f amilies with children.

Based on a review of 17 regional studies, the Interagency Council on the Homeless, a task force composed of federal executive branch departments and agency heads and chaired by HUD Secretary Kemp, last year issued a profile of homele ss households, defined as either a single homeless person or a homeless family (one or more adults with children). The Council reports that, on average, males comprise 80 percent or 90 percent of all homeless households in shelters. This percentage is eve n higher when the homeless outside shelters are included.

The proportion of the homeless who currently are married ranges from 4 percent to 12 percent in the surveys, while roughly half have never been married. More significant is the finding that the prop ortion of never-married adults appears to be the same for heads of families about 50 percent. This figure agrees with other evidence suggesting that most homeless families are dysfunctional, meaning that they have little or none of the interaction and mut u al support typically provided by a family environment. It also helps. to explain why, in. the words of one researcher, the homeless are profoundly alone. Cut off from the ties with family and friends that most Americans take for granted, the homeless gene rally face challenges far greater than simply finding permanent physical shelter.

Families in Shelters. The impression that many more than 10 percent of homeless households are families with children is almost surely due,..in.part 5 Martha R. Burt and Barb ara E. Cohen, Feeding the Homeless: Does the Ptqnated Meals hvision Help Washington, D.C The Urban Institute, 1988), prepared for the Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 6 Testimony before the House Banking and Government Operation s Committees, in a joint hearing on the 7 A Nation Concerned, Interagency Council on the Homeless (1988 8 David Whitman, from Rethinking Policy on Homelessness, a conference sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and The American Spectator, The Heritage Lect ues No. 194, December 14,1988, p. 45 HUD Report pn HoIpelessness May P! 32 i P 4to the fact that reporters tend to rely on information provided by operators of shelters. Shelters are used more frequently by homeless families than by homeless individuals.

Another reason is that the share of family members (that is, adults and children counted individually) in the general homeless population about 23 percent often.is.mistakenly .cited as .the .percentage of homeless families.

Among those who use shelters, ex plains Urban Institute scholar Martha Burt, 37 percent are family members 11 percent adults and 24 percent children. If you look at those who only use soup kitchens, only 5 percent are family members 2 percent adults and 3 percent children. If you look a our...street sample which did not use services, there are no children 3) Most of the homeless suffer from chronic drug and alcohol abuse and/or mental illness.

Researchers generally agree that 35 percent to 40 percent of the nations homeless have severe dr ug or alcohol abuse problems. Unscientific but probably accurate street-level estimates are far higher. Shelter operators recently provided the New York 7imes with estimates of the percentage of addicts among the homeless adults they serve: 75 percent in t he South Bronx up to 80 percent in Philadelphia, and 90 percent in Washington, D.C.1 In addition, as many as one out of every two homeless persons is disabled by severe, chronic mental illness. The main reason for the large number of mentally-ill homeless is the deinstitutionalization policy initiated under the 1963 Community Mental Health Centers Act. As a result of the Act, the number of patients in state mental hospitals has declined from 505,000 in 1963 to about 110,OOO last year.

Community Center Fail ures. The intent of the Act was humane and laudable: patients released from state institutions were to be cared for by trained professionals in community-based health centers. Federal money helps support these centers. But most of the community-based ment a l health services designed to assume care for these patients do not do so. Instead most centers have become counseling and psychotherapy facilities for Americans with less debilitating emotional and mental problems. In addition although billions of taxpay er dollars were spent during.the. 1950s andJ960s.to train mental health professionals, very few of those trained have gone into d 9 Martha Burt, Rethinking Poky on Homelessness, op. cit p. 19 10 The New Yo& Ties, op. cit.

I1 This figure is based on two authoritative surveys employing standardized diagnostic techniques, which estimate the percentage of mentally ill homeless at 45 percent and 47 percent, respectively DJ. Baumann, et al The Austin Homeless: Final Report Pmvid ed to the Hog Foundation for Mental Health (Austin,Texas: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, 1985 and P. Rdssi, et al The Condition of the Homeless of Chicago University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, 19

86. Analyses that rely on self-reporting of psychiatric histories by the homeless or on estimates by care providers generally yield somewhat lower figures National 0piPion.R.esearch cester,..c&.c Jk9.h. and i and..Qempgra~~c~ ResearchJnstilute 5practice to provide long-term treatment for the ser i ously ill. As a result, many deinstitutionalized patients who should be receiving professional medical attention are left to wander the streets, and termed, simplistically horneless.12 The 1988 Urban Institute study provides the first comprehensive nation a l figures on other char.acteristics,of- the homeless which also may contribute to or aggravate their condition (see Chart l).-For instance, the study indicates that 56 percent of the homeless have beenjaiiled for five or more days, while more than one in f our have served time in state or federal prisons (which implies a felony conviction Almost one-half have never finished high school and only 5 percent or 6 percent have steady employment 4) For the minority who are homeless for economic reasons, the probl em is not underfunded federal programs but local urban renewal and rent control policies.

Most shelter residents have been homeless for less than a year. Some are there because a domestic dispute drives them out of their homes, or because of temporary unem ployment or a 13 Chart 1 Characteristics of the Homeless No Steady Job Jalled 6 or mom dam No Hlgh School Degme Chronlcelly Mentally 111 at liait $0~8 i i IIIII o io PO ao 40 60 eo 70 80 00 io0 percent of total powlation Source: Feed/n# the Honm/euu (Urba n Inetltut 1988).

Herl1.o. IntoCharl personal tragedy (such as a fire afford long-term housing.The reasons for this are not as typically alleged high unemployment and inflation. While the homeless problem gained visibility during the recession of the early 1980s, unemployment and inflation have dropped steadily since then -with little apparent impact on the numbers of homeless. And contrary to popular impression, HUD spending rose significantly during the Reagan years.

The reason for confusion over spending is that annual budgets for federal agencies are expressed in terms of both .outlays and budget authority.

Outlayfigures reflectactual spending on .programs, while budget authority is A few, although employed and Willing to rent, simply are unable to fin d or 12 E. Fuller Torrey, M.D Nowhere to Go New York Harper Row, 1988 13 Burt and Cohen, op. cit 6 like the limit on a charge card -the total spendingauthority made available to that agency by Congress in a given fiscal year, including commitments for fut ure spending. In fact, as Chart 2 shows, HUD outlays in Reagans first term were about 30 percent higher than spending under Carter,-even when inflation is-taken into account.

The real culprits have been urban redevelopment programs -federally funded, in many cases and rent control policies. During the 1970s, urban renewal projects destroyed over one million units of inner-city housing.

The Urban Development Action Grant program, which Drovides federal Chart- 2 Annual HUD Spending 21 B 18 16 0 8 n 19 9 f0 $ 3 Sourc.: OW FY fOQ0 Hiatorkal Tabla Harllmga InloCharl 1 subsidies for redevelopment projects, alone has been blamed for the loss of much of the nations stock of single-room occupancy SRO) units. These very low cost boarding houses or hotels traditionall y have been home to many poor Americans, particularly single men. It was not until 1987 that Congress curbed this tragic misuse of federal funds when RepresentativeBarney I Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, successfully attached his antidisplacement amend m ent to the 1987 Housing and Community Development Act. This amendment requires cities to replace all low- and moderate-income housing units demolished to make way for federally funded projects, and to provide relocation expenses for those affected by deve l opment schemes shortage of affordable housing in the six states and nearly 200 urban areas where such regulations are in force. Economists long have taught that all price controls lead to shortages by discouraging production while stimulating increased de m and. Rent controls are no exception. By eliminating incentives for construction of new housing and for proper maintenance of existing housing, rent control creates rental housing shortages. This makes it almost impossible for Americans with limited means t o find the few units that occasionally -do-become.available; since-high demand ensures those units will usually go only to those who can afford brokers fees, exorbitant key money commissions, and bribes to landlords Creating Housing Shortages. Rent contro l policies, meanwhile, ensure a 7 The direct link between rent control and homelessness is documented in a 1987 study of 50 U.S. cities.This study, using statistical correlations prepared by New York University Mathematics Professor Jeffrey Simonoff compar e s homeless rates with seven factors: rent control, unemployment, poverty, the availability of public housing, rental vacancy rates, city size, and even climate Indisputable Conclusion. Using regression analysis, a standard method for discovering likely ca u ses of a phenomenon, the Simonoff study finds no statistically relevant relationship between the incidence of homelessness and any of the factors tested -except for rent control. Here the correlation is extraordinarily high. The conclusion is indisputable : differences in the rates of economically- induced homelessness between cities are linked primarily to the presence or absence of rent control.

Aggravating the problem, explains WilliamTucker, a Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, who wrote the study based on Simonoff s findings, is the labyrinth of building codes, zoning restrictions; and impact fees in force around the country. These prevent developers from addressing the need for affordable housing.15 The Wall Street Journal noted this spring that regula t ory sprawl adds 20 percent to 25 percent to the per-unit cost of new housing. In some areas, the figure is as high as 35 percent.16 Builders and developers, who must pass these increased costs on to the consumer, thus are forced to specialize in luxury un i ts for the relatively affluent. Suburban slow growth policies and residential density limits also inhibit the constmction of multifamily dwellings, further tightening the affordable housing market 14 WHAT IS BEING DONE TO HELP THE HOMELESS Attention to th e plight of the homeless has led to a typically American outpouring of private assistance, as well as to increased spending at almost every level of government. Widespread claims that little has been done to help the homeless thus are absolutely untrue. Am o ng the actions in recent years I 1) Dramatic help from individuals and private charities An estimated 94 percent of all homeless shelters in the U.S..are privately operated. In addition to offering shelter, these private facilities provide such services a s help in finding permanent housing, job training, and child care.

Moreover, the number of shelters has increased 190 percent in the past five years from 1,900 in 1984 to almost 5,400 today. The number of beds is up 180 percent from 100,000 in 1984 to 275,000 in 19

88. Private donations also help fund soup kitchens, counseling, and housing construction and rehabilitation.

Organizations providing these services usually rely on volunteer help, in-kind 14 WilliamTuckeri Where Do the Homeless Come From? Natio nal Review, September 25,1987 p. 32 15 aid. See also William Tucker, Americas Homeless: Victims of Rent Control, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 685, January 1% 1989 16 Housings High Costs, The Wall S&et Journal, May.9,1989 8 donations, and cash gift s from individuals, foundations, and corporations. All told, the private sector contributes well over $100 million annually to the fight against homelessness 2) Dramatically increased state and local government spending on the homeless According to-the-198 8 report by the Presidents Interagency Council on the Homeless,-27 states were spending a total-of $437 million on homeless programs last year, up from $244 million in 1987?7 The Interagency Council report also found a dramatic increase in efforts by citie s to coordinate homeless assistance programs. In addition, services designed to help the homeless regain economic independence, such as literacy courses and job placement counseling, now are being provided in many more communities 3) Record federal spendin g on homelessness In 1987, the federal government provided $490 million in direct assistance for the homeless through the McKinney Act, first enacted that year.This legislation contains 17 different programs administered through seven federal agencies. Geo r ge Bushs fiscal 1990 budget calls for increasing McKinney spending to $746 million. Congress has not yet completed action on this request. In addition to McKinney funds, over 60 separate federal programs provide additional aid to the homeless either direc t ly or as part of general low-income assistance services. These range from Pentagon donations of shelter, food and bedding, totaling $14.4 million since 1984, to HUD Community Development Block Grants, used by recipient states last year to fund an estimate d $40 million in homeless assistance. In one way or another, almost every part of government is helping the homeless. Even the U.S. Postal Service provides mailboxes for Americans without a permanent address SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM About $1.5 billion in pri v ate, local, state and federal resources thus are being spent every year on the homeless through direct assistance programs alone. The homeless also receive hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional aid through other, non-specific low-income prog rams.

With spending at these record levels, why does the homeless problem still seem intractable? Simply put, America has failed to win the war on homelessness because so much of the help, particularly from the government overlooks the real causes and natu re of homelessness. This leads to a serious misallocation of resources. Ironically, those most responsible for misleading policy makers and the American people usually identify themselves as homeless advocates. In their zeal to generate public support for the homelessymany of these activistshave tried to portray the.homeless in ways 17 A Nution Concerned, Interagency Council on the Homeless, 1988 9that they believe will elicit sympathy. Such portrayals are not accurate. As a result, the hardcore homeless - t he addicts and the mentally ill are almost totally ignored by the campaign for government action In response to pressure to help the homeless, the government has adopted a crisis-management approach, providing emergency food and shelter but little in the form of. long=term.help At least one leading homeless advocate has acknowledged thisnasty little secret, and admitted to a change of heart.

Robert Hayes, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, told the New York limes this Ma y that he and others have shied away from discussing the problem of addiction in the past, in part because [we] feared that the public would lose its sympathy for the homeless Now, he says, the bottom line is that we have to tell the truth.18 image of hom e lessness crafted by the activists. Moreover as so often happens when programs are developed in a crisis atmosphere driven by the desire to do something, they are inefficient and riddled with bureaucracy. Example the McKinney Act authorizes spending for dr u g rehabilitation, job training and transitional housing. Funding applications must be made separately for each program, often to several government agencies with different guidelines and requirements. Even when they are aware of the programs, most private care providers lack the grantsmanship skills needed to secure funds from the federal bureaucracy As a result, many good shelters struggle along without assistance. Moreover, much of the federal money is spent on treating the symptoms rather than the cause s of homelessness, leading to a mismatch between services and needs. Thus while a third of Americas shelter beds are empty on any given night,lg most of the hardcore homeless still have nowhere to turn for care.

Washington can address this misallocation pr oblem. Some encouraging first steps recently have been outlined by the Bush Administration. Many more are needed.To help communities provide the services most needed by the homeless, Congress and the Administration should 1) Provide McKinney assistance th rough a block grant rather than categorical grants.

Currently, Mckinney funds are provided through categorical grants. Such grants narrowly define the uses to which federal funds may be put, and require states and cities to participate in a convoluted application process.

Block grants, by contrast, disburse a bulk sum of money along with general directions for how the funds are to be used. This gives wider discretion to states and cities.Transforming Mc&ney funds from categorical to block grants would allo w states and cities to use the money for creative approaches in dealing with homelessness and would remove the red tape that prevents Riddled with Bureaucracy. So far, however, programs still reflect the 18 The New Yo& Imes, op. cit 19A Report on the 1988 Nafional Survey of Shelters for the Homeless, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1989 10 money reaching those who can use it most effectively. It would have the additional advantage of enabling communities to experiment with new programs of thei r own design, and to tailor help to the unique needs of their homeless residents rather than to complex federal requirements.

Two actions are needed to make a block grant operate effectively. First, for assess accurately the size and needs of their homeles s population As more data on the homeless population are compiled throughregional and national studies (such as the homeless count in next years National Census), this task will become more manageable. Second, an essential ingredient for a successful bloc k grant program is a clear set of goals and guidelines.

Performance criteria should be established in discussions between Washington and the state governments. The federal government. should not micromanage community responses to homelessness by diffusing assistance through separate programs; spending decisions can be made more efficiently by local care providers funds to.be.allocated-equitably,-recipient .cities and states must be able to 2) Enforce the intent of the 1963 Community Health Centers Act The g oal of deinstitutionalization sought by the 1963 Act is to move patients in state mental hospitals to less rigid and more humane community facilities. This goal has not been met. While some 789 mental health centers have been created since 1963 with $3 bi l lion in federal seed money, most provide counseling and therapy to those whom Washington psychiatrist Fuller Torrey calls the worried well, rather than the chronically mentally ill.qIThe Bush Administration should introduce new regulations to require ment al health centers to fulfill their responsibility to provide care for those who most urgently need it.

In addition, most of the nations 150,000 mental health professionals,were trained at taxpayer expense (with over 2 billion spent through the National Ins titutes of Mental Health alone) under programs created specifically to provide care for the seriously mentally ill. But the number of American-trained psychiatrists employed in public health care facilities has not changed since 19

45. Too few psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric social workers serve the estimated 2 million Americans with severe mental illnesses, as many as 15 percent of whom may be homeless. It is time for.

Congress to demand performance for taxpayer dollars by attaching a unive rsal payback obligation to federally subsidized training programs This would require psychiatric professionals who receive federal funds to devote at least a fraction of their services,pro bono, to the Americans who need them most 20 Torrey, op. cit 11 3) Provide vouchers for group homes and single-room occupancy (SRO hotels While rental vouchers have proven the most cost-effective means of general housing assistance, they often are of little use to the majority of the homeless. They need group housing equ i pped with special facilities and staffed by full or part-time care providers; or they may prefer inexpensive shelter with shared amenities. Vouchers already can be used in some instances for SRO accommodation, but regulations prevent them being used exten s ively New laws thus are needed to increase the number of vouchers and to make it easier for the homeless to use them for shared accommodations. Vouchers need to be made widely available to single adults using no frills SRO units. Making vouchers more avai l able to SRO hotel residents, moreover, would encourage the creation of more of those facilities 4) Use the Low Income Opportunity Board to encourage innovative state proposals to tackle homelessness The Low Income Opportunity Board (LIOB) was created in 1 9 87 as a federal interagency panel to review state proposals for innovative anti-poverty programs that may fall outside established federal funding guidelines. The LIOB can direct federal agencies to grant modifications, or waivers, of existing federal rul es to enable a state program to go into effect.

By cutting red tape, the LIOB encourages creativity in adapting federal programs to meet local needs while retaining appropriate federal oversight and ensuring the intent of federal programs is pursued..The: Board has been the catalyst for many major welfare reforms at the state level. But limitations on waiver authority often make it difficult for the Board to permit states to try new ways to address the root causes of homelessness.To correct this, the Bush A dministration should ask Congress to extend broad waiver authority to the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and the Veterans Affairs. This would enable the White House to spur developmen t of state programs that for instance, might combine housing assistance with much-needed psychiatric, drug treatment, job training, and literacy services and other barriers to the construction of low-cost housing shortage by adopting more sensible building codes, eliminating exclusionary zoning practices, and, most importantly, ending rent control. Congress well aware that most cities have created their own affordable housing shortages through overregulation, has directed HUD to prepare a report by years en d on the impact of rent control on homelessness. Congress should act swiftly on the report, which is certain to document the direct link between rent control and homelessness. .Congress should require.any.city receiving federal housing funds to develop and introduce a plan for freeing its housing market from rent regulation. Noncompliance should trigger a reduction in housing 5) Tie federal housing assistance to the gradual elimination of rent control Americas large cities could solve much of their affordab l e housing 12 C. I subsidies.The federal taxpayer should no longer be expected to foot the bill when local politicians support city regulations that are popular with the middle class but reduce the supply of housing to the poor CONCLUSION Aiiiricais nofsuf feXngfrom a runaway homelessness epidemic. Nor do the characteristics-of the homeless conform to the-image routinely portrayed in the press.

Yet homelessness is a problem that no prosperous and compassionate society should ignore. Tackling the problem deci sively, however, means introducing policies that deal with causes, not feel good approaches based on myths or aimed at solving symptoms willing than ever to provide the resources needed to deal with the homeless problem.The danger is that Congress will ru s h to enact expensive new programs that will do little to help Setting the Record Straight. The good news is that Americans appear more Crafting an effective policy on homelessness will require setting the record straight about how many homeless there are, and about the real reasons they remain on the street after nearly a decade of rapidly increasing assistance.

Most important, a wise and sensitive policy requires Congress to focus on the chronic drug abuse and mental illness problems of most homeless Americans.

What lawmakers should not do is to heed the selfish;demands*of those who. 2 would exploit homelessness in a campaign for bigger handouts to the housing industry.

John Scanlon Policy Analyst I 13


Sam Kazman