Following the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society programs in the 1960s, homelessness was considered to be history in America. In the 1980s, however, the number of homeless people in America surged to levels not seen since the Great Depression. What caused homelessness to go from practically a non-issue to a population that today is more than one percent of the nation and growing?
There is no simple, concrete answer. The Western Regional Advocacy Project, for example, attributes the rise to "everything from economic downshifts, to high unemployment, to deindustrialization, to global outsourcing of jobs, to the rollback of social programs, to disruptions of familial networks, to urban renewal, to the reduction in open-market low end housing, to racial discrimination, to gentrification, to the near elimination of federally supported affordable housing." Phew.
In this brief foray into history, we will focus on two of the most compelling and frequently cited reasons for the surge in homelessness in the 1980s: the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and a persistent and severe affordable housing crisis.
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