Five Myths About America

Decent Essays
out America
Five myths about America 's homeless

By Dennis Culhane
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Last month, the Obama administration released a plan designed to end homelessness in 10 years. The goal reflects new optimism among academics and advocates that homelessness is not an intractable feature of urban life, as it has sometimes seemed, but a problem that can be solved. This belief is fueled by recent research debunking a number of long-standing myths about homelessness in America -- and showing that many of our old policies were unwittingly making the problem worse.
1. Homelessness is usually a long-term condition.
To the contrary, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one or two days, and half the people who
…show more content…
4. Shelters are a humane solution to homelessness.
When homelessness became a national epidemic in the 1980s, reformers responded with emergency shelters that were meant to be temporary havens. But as homelessness became more entrenched, so did shelters: Their capacity more than doubled by the late 1980s, then again a few years later, and then again by 2000. Along the way, they became institutionalized way stations for lots of poor people with temporary housing crises, including those avoiding family conflicts, leaving prison or transitioning from substance-abuse treatment.
Large shelters are notoriously overcrowded and often unruly places where people experience the ritualized indignities of destitution: long lines for bedding or a squeeze of toothpaste; public showers; thieves; conflict. Many people have voted with their feet, and as a result, street homelessness persists.
Shelters may be the final safety net, but that net scrapes perilously close to the ground. To be in a shelter is to be homeless, and the more shelters we build, the more resources we divert from the only real solution to homelessness: permanent housing.
Researchers and policymakers are newly optimistic about the prospect of ending homelessness. For two decades, the goal of our homeless programs was to first treat people for their myriad afflictions (substance abuse, say, or illness) and hope that
Get Access