The Longest Period of Growing Homelessness In the History of the United States
Many of us providing services in the early 1980’s to people experiencing homelessness warned our political leaders and faith community that if we didn’t make structural changes, we would be in the mess we are in today.
Yet in 2017 media and society continue to blame people for becoming homeless.
In reality, over 1/3 of our country is 1 to 3 paychecks away from not making rent or mortgage payments, and 50% of our American population has a mental health and/or chemical health issue.
If you have money, you have housing. If you don’t have money, you are at risk of homelessness, especially if you have any personal health issues!
We are all responsible for the moral and structural causes of homelessness in our country. Here are the ten primary reasons why people are becoming homeless today:
- Limited moral outcry to love and treat others as ourselves.
- Greed: me and my needs are more important than we the people and the common good
- Housing is treated as a commodity, not a basic need. In Minnesota, through our tax expenditure budget, we will subsidize primarily white homeowners over next biennium over $1.5 Billion (Mortgage interest, tax, capital gain write offs). We are fighting to just keep $30 Million to address the disparity in homeownership between white and non-white persons. We are the 3rd worst state in the country in this disparity.
- Lack of or no enforcement of our civil rights and fair housing laws – Disparities against minorities and across income levels continue to increase.
- Wages are not livable incomes (from jobs or public assistance). If you have money, no matter what other issues you have, you can get housing.
- Demolition of housing without replacement. Tax code change in 1986: Drove out of business our ma and pa landlords, complicated the housing development process, and required sophisticated and well-funded investors.
- Credit Expanded in 1970s – Buy now, pay later became the norm. Debt increases.
- Disinvestment in opportunities for people with limited resources in housing, jobs, social services, education, health care. Dismantling the mental health asylums without creating the promised community housing. We capped domestic program spending, and pitted them against each other while we built up war and defense budget tax breaks for wealthiest. This began in the 1970s, expanded in the 1980s with President Reagan and a Democratic Congress, and has continued to NOW.
- Scams in the housing industry with little or no consequences for the perpetrators: our financial institutions, realtors, title companies. We have had over 150,000 foreclosures since 2007 in MN.
- To rent housing, a criminal, credit, and rental check is almost always completed. Anything on your record may keep you out of rental housing. Only a credit check is done when you buy a home and that is not done if you buy with cash.
Over the last 4 decades we have continued to experience the ongoing growth of homelessness as we fail to address the structural causes of homelessness. Homelessness is caused by our inequitable structural issues, not just people’s personal issues.
We must invest in equitable solutions, which include a balanced continuation of: Housing and Affordable Housing, Rental and Homeownership, the Common Sense Housing Investment Act HR948, livable incomes (wages and public assistance), accessible, affordable, culturally appropriate health care, human services, and transportation, excellent educational and job training opportunities, and assurance that everyone’s civil rights are respected, protected, and enforced.
We need to decide:
- Are we going to continue to blame people for being homeless and manage homelessness through a rapidly growing homeless services industry for another four decades,
- Are we going to be responsible and live out our faith, assist those experiencing homelessness now,
make the structural changes needed to bring our community, state and nation home and live out our pledge to be One Nation, Under God, with Liberty and Justice For All!
By Sue Watlov Phillips
Founding member of National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), Vice President NCH Board
Executive Director, MICAH (Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing)