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Homelessness in America is not a new phenomenon -- there have always been poor and disadvantaged people, vagrants, bums, immigrants starting new lives with next to nothing, and others who through choice or no choice of their own have been homeless. During the Great Depression, the terms "soup line" and "poor house" became household words. Conditions changed, and by the economic "boom years" of the 1950s and 1960s "poverty" was an issue but "homelessness" was not widespread in urban centers and was not considered to be a crisis. The 1980s brought a dramatic rise in homelessness in American cities. Different types of people have become homeless for a variety of new reasons and the problem of homeless has become a national issue.

There are wide discrepancies in the estimates of how many are homeless. In 1984, the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that there were about 250,000 homeless people in America, while the Community for Creative Non-Violence reached an estimate of three million persons ("The Politics," 1987, p. 508). The differences allowed conservatives and liberals to choose different figures to argue either that the problem was not widespread, or that it was a mushrooming national crisis.

By 1987, it was generally acknowledged that the situation had worsened and a number of groups, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless, were citing estimates of two to three million persons, with 500,000 to 800,000 being homeless children (Kennedy, 1986, p. 1). The problem had become so obvious in major cities that the lower estimates lost credibility, and Democrats and Republicans alike began sponsoring congressional bills to aid the homeless.

Traditionally, most homeless persons had been lone adult males, and a majority of them were alcoholics or drug abusers. These were the stereotyped "skid row bums," and whether alcohol, drugs, or chronic unemployment were the original causes of being ...

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THE HOMELESS OF AMERICAN CITIES. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:36, November 29, 2021, from