Responding to America's Homeless: Public Policy Alternatives

Responding to America's Homeless: Public Policy Alternatives

Responding to America's Homeless: Public Policy Alternatives

Responding to America's Homeless: Public Policy Alternatives


"This useful and clearly written book provides a discussionof the major issues involved in dealing with the homeless, summarizes information available from a number of studies, and draws conclusions about current public policy and future policy alternatives. . . . An important addition to any library dealing with contemporary social concerns." Choice The homeless have become increasingly numerous and visible in our society. Responding to America's Homeless presents scientific evidence concerning the nature, extent, and causes of homelessness. Using an unprecedented survey of 1,000 homeless individuals and families, as well as previous national, local, and scholarly research, the authors draw a vivid portrait of the homeless population and their needs. The authors challenge the widely held view that most homeless are mentally ill, proposing an original classification of the homeless based on needs for various forms of assistance. On the basis of this empirical research, the authors evaluate current public policies for dealing with the homeless and present alternative plans aimed at returning homeless people to more normal, secure circumstances.


In undertaking this work, we were quite conscious of the emotions that surround discussions of homelessness and of the limited, although rapidly growing, base of careful research on which to draw. Indeed, the opportunity to improve the ratio of information to emotion in such discussions was a major motive for the project.

As recently as 1983, only scattered systematic research was available, from a handful of localized studies, on the extent and nature of homelessness in the United States. With publication of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's national report on homelessness and emergency shelters in early 1984, and completion of the first statewide systematic survey of homeless people themselves by the Ohio Department of Mental Health in the same year, the picture changed. Now, basic information was available on numbers, distribution, causes, needs, and how those needs were being addressed across the country. And now, a broad cross section of the homeless population had been interviewed directly regarding their personal backgrounds, present circumstances, and state of body and mind. The availability of this new information led us to begin a book that, we believed, could provide reasonable guidance to policymakers and others concerned with the homeless.

The first author was a member of the HUD research team that produced the 1984 report. The second author helped to design and carry out the Ohio survey and contributed to the survey report. However, the interpretations we make of HUD's published findings and the analyses and conclusions we draw from the Ohio data are strictly our own. Similarly, the opinions we express in the latter chapters regarding current public policies and future policy alternatives are our own thoughts and may or may not be consistent with the official positions of any government agency.

Our analyses have led us to take a more differentiated view of the homeless than previously and to recognize the need for new public policies that aim to do more than meet immediate needs for emergency food and shelter. If others gain as much insight into these issues from reading these pages as we have gained in writing them, then our original intention will be fulfilled.

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