“Being homeless is often defined as sleeping on the streets. Although thisis the most visible and severe form of homelessness, there are many other typesof acute housing need. These include living in temporary accommodation, poor orovercrowded conditions, or being in mortgage arrears and under threat ofre-possession.
” (Hope 1986) It is a symptom of many complex problems:mental illness, emotional instability, illiteracy, chronic substance abuse,unemployment, and, most basic of all, breakdown of the family structure. Anyonecan become homeless and the reasons that force people into homelessness are manyand varied. The leading cause, however, of homelessness in the United States isthe inability of poor people to afford housing. “Housing costs have risensignificantly over the last decade, while the incomes of poor and middle-classAmericans have stagnated. ” (Erickson 1991) The millions of Americans whoare unemployed or work in low-paying jobs are among the most vulnerable tobecoming homeless.
Therefore, homelessness, housing and income are inextricablylinked. Low-income people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food,child-care, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made whenlimited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing,which takes a high proportion of income that must be dropped. Two major sourcesof income are from employment and public assistance. A decrease in either one ofthem would certainly put poor people at risk of homelessness.
Additionally,minimum wage earnings no longer lift families above the poverty line. “Morethan 3 million poor Americans spend more than half of their total income onhousing, yet the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates familiesshould spend no more than 30%. ” (Gilbert 1993) Although many homelessadults are employed, they work in day-labor jobs that do not meet basic needs,while technological acceleration excludes others from a competitive job market. Many factors have contributed to declining work opportunities for large segmentsof the workforce, including the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs.
Thedecline in relatively secure and well-paying jobs in manufacturing, which havebeen replaced by less secure and poorly-paid jobs in the service sector, hasgreatly limited the opportunities for poorly-educated and low-skilled segmentsof the population. This transformation has led to an unprecedented incidence ofchronic unemployment and underemployment. (Hardin 1996) “Underemployment isan especially useful measure of the decline in secure jobs since, unlike theunemployment rate, measures of underemployment reflect not only individuals whoare unemployed, but also involuntary part-timers and those who have given upseeking work. ” (Hardin 1996) In addition to increasing underemployment,”an estimated 29.
4% of the workforce are employed in nonstandard workarrangements” (Economic Policy Institute, 1997) — for example, independentcontracting, working for a temporary help agency, day labor, and regularpart-time employment. These kinds of work arrangements typically offer lowerwages, fewer benefits, and less job security. “As recently as 1967, ayear-round worker earning the minimum wage was paid enough to raise a family ofthree above the poverty line” (Sklar, 1995). From 1981-1990, however,”the minimum wage was frozen at $3. 35 an hour, while the cost of livingincreased 48% over the same period. Congress raised the minimum wage to $5.
15per hour in 1996. This increase made up only slightly more than half of theground lost to inflation in the 1980s” (Shapiro, 1995b). Thus, full-timeyear-round minimum-wage earnings currently not equal to the estimated povertyline for a family of three. Unsurprisingly, the decline in the value of theminimum wage has been accompanied by an increase in the number of people earningpoverty-level wages and the declining wages have put housing out of reach formany workers: in every state. Slashed public assistance has also left manypeople homeless or at risk of homelessness. “Replacement of the Aid toFamilies with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement program– a program that wasalready inadequate in meeting the needs of families — with the non-entitlementblock rant program will significantly increased the risk of homelessness formany Americans.
” (Foscarinas 1996) Furthermore, earned income and assetlimitations discourage individuals and families from breaking the cycle ofhomelessness and extreme poverty. Several states have terminated or reducedpublic assistance and food stamps for individuals, while “Social SecurityIncome (SSI) is inadequate — and sometimes impossible to obtain — for disabledindividuals. ” (Foscarinas 1996) As a result, the number of poor Americansis growing and the poor are getting poorer. Across America, there has been asubstantial decline in the number of housing units that low-income people andthose in need of shelter assistance can afford. Those losses have resultedprimarily from downtown urban renewal, gentrification, abandonment, and suburbanland use controls. The elimination and reduction of federal low income housingprograms has also dramatically reduced the supply of affordable shelter.
Moreover, construction of low income and assisted housing has essentiallystopped (Newsweek 1984). Due to the increased demand and diminished supply ofhousing or shelter, the problem of homelessness is further deteriorated. Theamount of housing available in the private sector rental stock is diminishingrapidly. As more and more landlords abandon apartment buildings and housesrather than repair them, the housing supply for the poor has declined at anaccelerating pace in some cities in the nation (Donwall 1985).
The growth ofservice-sector employment in central business districts has attractedwhite-collar professionals, many of whom prefer to live in accessible centralcity neighborhoods, where they compete with poor, indigenous residents forprivate market housing (Noyelle 1983). The result is frequently gentrificationof inner city housing which traditionally has been the major source of low-income housing. At the same time, downtown service sector expansion has createdjobs for many low-waged workers, which increases the demand for low cost shelterreadily accessible to the downtown. It makes the homeless in downtown evenharder to rent a place to live.
Downtown development also diminishes the supplyof low-income housing for poor people. As the City raises more new officetowers, the vacancy for housing is getting less. In Seattle, for instance,office space in downtown grew from 13 million square feet in 1981 to about 24million square feet in 1990. On the other hand, the downtown low-income housingstock declined from about 11,000 units in 1980 to less than 6,000 units in 1987. “With the passage of the new housing levy, the City will try to regain somelow income units, but today low-income units vanish faster than they can bebuilt.
” (Arcade 1987) and there is still a shortage in housing supply indowntown areas. Besides, the qualities of temporary shelters for homeless peopleare terrible that they think staying on streets is a better choice. “Notonly have the lost bed-spaces not been made up, but the new hostels are not asreadily accessible to the homeless coming directly off the street. They tend tocater for special needs groups and access tends to be through referral”(Housing Review 1988). Planners can play an important role in the search forsolutions to homelessness.
And homelessness is an extensive, complex process. Different kinds of intervention are needed to deal with the problem. But themost widely accepted approach is a three-tier system, “beginning withemergency shelters and moving through transitional accommodations to long-termhousing” (Urban Land 1986). Rehabilitation of old buildings by minimalfunding are common projects to provide shelters for the homeless people. However, some observers suggests that making “the renovation of buildingsfor low-income housing attractive, that is, profitable, for developers orinvestors” (Urban Land 1986) can be the solution to the homeless problem.
Our examination makes it clear that piecemeal intervention can alleviateemergency shelter crises, but such action will not resolve the long-term problemof finding permanent shelter for the homeless and returning them to themainstream of society wherever possible, which we regard as the ultimate goal ofintervention. Equally obvious is that while long-term intervention strategiesare vital, they do not address the problems of survival for those presentlywithout shelter and support. We conclude that both long-term and short-termmeasures are necessary, but that all the solutions should be based onintegrated, comprehensive understanding of the homelessness problem. Only such acomprehensive approach will allow planners to develop workable strategies withany chance for success. BibliographyBaldwin, Shelly. 1987.
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