]]]]]]]]]]]]]]        WHAT ARMY OF HOMELESS?          [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
        THEY'RE FAIRLY FEW AND CAN BE HELPED [3/3/89]       (4/2/1989)   
     First Published [1/4/89] as THE HOMELESSNESS STAMPEDE
                   by Gerald and Natalie Sirkin
            Copyright, N & G Sirkin, Sherman, Connecticut, 1989
Dr. and Mrs. Gerald Sirkin, residents of Sherman, Connecticut, have a 
regular biweekly column in the Citizen News of New Fairfield, Connecticut.

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 06784LOEB]

     A stampede creates a lot of action, none of it intelligent.  The 
homelessness-stampede of the public and its representatives is no 
     With homelessness-activists snapping at their heels, excited altru- 
ists in a factless fog are dashing off in all directions except the right 
one.  If this country can pause long enough to look at the facts, we have 
a chance of helping the homeless while avoiding costly foolishness.

     Getting an accurate estimate of the number of homeless, matters.  If 
we believe the number is huge, the cry of "crisis" will resound through 
the land, and government will throw more money.  (It now spends $17 bil- 
lion a year.)  If we believe the number is small, we can remain calm e- 
nough to analyze the problem and look for efficient policies.
     The number of homeless most commonly cited in the media is 3,000,000, 
a number scary enough to trigger an uproar.  Is this figure the result of 
a scientific study?  Not at all.  It is an arbitrary number thrown to the 
media several years ago by well-publicized homeless-activist Mitch Snyder.
     Snyder admitted at a congressional hearing in 1984 that the number is 
"in fact meaningless.  We have tried to satisfy your gnawing curiosity for 
a number because we are Americans with western little minds that have to 
quantify everything in sight, whether we can or not." 
     Indeed we can quantify homelessness.  The U.S. Department of Housing 
and Urban Development (HUD) did a comprehensive survey in 1984, estimating 
the homeless at between 250,000 and 350,000.  Though criticized because it
was unexpectedly low, the estimate was substantiated by other serious  
studies.  Harvard economist Richard B. Freeman estimated 279,000 for 1985, 
which he projected to 340,000 as of 1987.  He counts those living in wel- 
fare hotels as homeless.
     The Urban Institute estimated 600,000 in a comprehensive survey in 
March, 1987, financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The figure 
is admittedly too high, "based on our desire to err on the side--as a 
government study--of overestimating rather than under-estimating," said 
study-author Martha R. Burt speaking at a Heritage Foundation conference 
on homelessness broadcast on television's C-SPAN in December.
     Last September the U.S. General Accounting Office examined 27 studies 
and found that the high-quality studies produced a median (half above, 
half below) of about 320,000 homeless--a tenth of the fictitious 3,000,000 
hair-raising figure repeated by those in the business of raising hair.

     The numbers tell us we are not faced with a crisis.  A look at who 
the homeless are will tell us what the problem is and what must be done.
     At least one-third and perhaps as much as 40 percent of the homeless 
are the mentally ill, who were dumped out of state mental institutions and 
left without supervision or alternative care.  In 1955, there were 552,150 
patients in public mental hospitals; by the end of 1984, there were only 
118,647.  This 79-percent decrease followed a change in Federal Government 
policy, encouraged in part by the discovery of new drugs that are extreme- 
ly effective in controlling psychoses, especially schizophrenia.
     But these deinstitutionalized patients must continue to take their 
medication; otherwise, they relapse into suffering delusions and hearing 
voices and are unable to take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, lacking 
supervision, large numbers stop taking their medication and end up in 
shelters, in doorways, and over grates.
     The history of these patients and of the Federal policies that hurt 
them, is recounted in Nowhere To Go:  The Tragic Odyssey of the Homeless 
Mentally Ill, by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. (Harper & Row, 1988, $18.95), 
which those concerned with homelessness should read.  A psychiatrist, Dr.
Torrey runs a clinic for homeless schizophrenic women in Washington, D.C.
     In the 1960s, Congress, dismayed by accounts of wretched conditions 
in the state mental hospitals, appropriated large sums to establish local 
Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) and to train more psychiatrists, 
psychologists, and psychiatric social workers.  These programs were di- 
rected specifically at helping the seriously mentally ill.  There was no 
mention (writes Dr. Torrey) of "services for married couples having diffi- 
culty communicating ... or middle-aged individuals undergoing existential 
     "This was a program for the suffering sick, not for the worried 
well," but the staffs of the CMHCs and the psychiatrists, psychologists, 
and psychiatric social workers trained at government expense, do what they 
prefer--treat the worried well, not the mentally ill.  The CMHCs are a 
failure and a waste but the program is still being expanded.
     Another large segment of the homeless--about one-third--consists of 
alcoholics and drug addicts.  Most of them are what we once called tramps 
and hoboes.  They have become highly visible since the abolition of va- 
grancy ordinances.
     The rest of the homeless includes husbandless women with children and 
people with a temporary problem of housing or income.  The number of home- 
less who are normal, employable people is a small minority.

     A stampede into government construction of subsidized apartments is 
the one thing not to do.  Public housing, always wasteful, is not directed 
at the real problem of homelessness.
     For the largest group, the mentally ill, construction will not help.  
They cannot look after themselves or apartments.  Supervision requiring 
them to take their medication, is essential.  The money being wasted on 
CMHCs should be redirected.  
     The American Civil Liberties Union is blocking help to the mentally 
ill.  Caring more for their civil rights than their lives, it goes to 
court to prevent city government from helping the helpless.  Recall the 
case of Billy Boggs, whose "constitutional right" to reside over a grate 
and perhaps freeze to death was defended by the ACLU.
     For the relatively normal homeless--the small minority who can't 
afford or can't find a dwelling--one thing that could be done is to stop 
cities from "warehousing" the vacant apartment houses it owns.  These 
buildings were acquired in lieu of property taxes when their private 
owners, who could not cover their costs under rent control, abandoned 
them.  It is believed that New York City owns 110,000 such apartments and 
is waiting to profit from a rise in property values before disposing of 
     In the long run, a major contribution would be the abolition of rent 
controls, which discourage construction, destroy low-cost housing through 
decay and demolition, freeze tenants into apartments often larger than 
they need, and freeze out the rest.
     We can also help by stopping the flood of lies.  The grossly 
exaggerated figures of homelessness make private individuals, cities, and 
states--which can better deal with the problem--give up in despair and 
leave it to the Federal Government.
     The problem is not (as housing activists claim) an alleged cut in 
Federal housing subsidies.  During the past eight years, housing subsidies 
to low-income families have increased more than 50% and the number of such 
households has increased by a third, according to University of Virginia 
economist Edgar O. Olsen. 
     The problem and its solutions bear no resemblance to what the 
stampede-makers would have us believe.

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