Historically, rich individuals, churches, social welfare associations, and public minded sentiment were the source of welfare and reform programs, with government following with policies and practices. With the Great Depression, the size of the economic disaster combined with global drought and crop failures meant real starvation of thousands of out of work citizens. The New Deal Programs laid the foundation for a new way of setting a measure of a standard of living across the nation. Today’s Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare programs are the legacies of institutional sourced assistance of that period.
Against the changes created by the Civil Rights movement and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, another cycle of programs were launched as a “war on poverty” by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. His Great Society challenge to end poverty slowed as money for the Vietnam War pulled away domestic reforms.
At the beginning of the 1980’s, changes in government programs and business practices triggered a rise in homelessness not seen since the Great Depression.
With each downturn in the economy in the late 1980’s, post 9/11/2001, the early 1990’s and again during the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, another population of Americans, those with the greatest health problems, and least education, poured out into the streets.
The first major reforms of the welfare system, food assistance with beefed up means testing and benefit limits came about in the mid 1990’s. Another cycle of restrictions began in 2011 with more welfare assistance restrictions and bans on camping and “good Samaritan” anti-public feedings.
Today communities are divided between service providers and the public whether these policies and practices violate basic human rights, criminalizes the experience of homelessness (camping, panhandling, and loitering) and the actions of their supporters (public feeding, camping permissions) or provides a necessary “stick” to the “carrot” of participating in offered permanent supportive housing programs.
While regional programs implement best practices, the demand for work, affordable housing, food, and medical care, the demands outweigh supply.
Today’s hybrid public/private/government partnerships around the country are following the Federal government in treating this as a major health problem.
Reforms are slowly coming to courts; foster care and medical care are joining the concept of permanent supportive housing to end homelessness. The Housing First model ends homelessness by getting targeted resources and commitment to help participants stay sheltered. Costs for providing this level of care is about one third less than current cycle of streets, hospital emergency rooms and jails.