Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

Marvin Olasky

People support each other in a rehab session
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Community — Not Housing — First

Can people, laden with childhood traumas plus the hard experience of years of homelessness, overcome their pasts? On a Monday afternoon in May, I threw that question at Alan Graham, founder and CEO of Austin's Community First! Village (CFV), where close to 400 formerly homeless humans now live. Read More ›
Volunteers close up are serving meal to homeless
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A Church Dinner for the Homeless

At 5:50 pm on a drizzly day in May, in the parking lot closest to the church's back entrance, backpacks held spots in line for the central Austin homeless who sat on a nearby patch of grass, waiting for dinner. Read More ›
Inside of a homeless shelter
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Homelessness is Exceptionally Hard to Solve

Sunrise pastor Mark Hilbelink said its navigation center last year helped more than 800 people get off the streets. Michael Busby was typical among those who benefited. He told the press that Sunrise staffers "helped me out a lot. They helped me restore my sanity. They help out with housing, they help out with medication, they keep your meds for you, and they give them out to you every day or every week." Read More ›
Aerial view of american suburb at summertime.  Establishing shot of american neighborhood. Real estate, residential houses. Drone shot, from above
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Not In My Backyard: When Serving the Homeless Clashes with Neighbors

Five miles southwest of "Church Under the Bridge" is Sunrise Community, a church that's part of everyday trench warfare against homelessness. At 11 am on Wednesday, May 22, 60 people (mostly in T-shirts and worn jeans, and carrying plastic shopping bags) waited patiently in two quiet lines. One line was for lunch: Two volunteers sat at a table handing out cups of cold water and plates of pizza and sandwiches. The other line was for everything else, including picking up ID cards and bus passes. One window was for getting mail — for thousands, it's their only address. Read More ›
Warm food for the poor and homeless
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Mission Possible: Feeding Bellies and Hearts in Austin

Last month, starting on a Sunday morning, I learned more about the intractability of homelessness in my home city, Austin, Texas. During three decades of "Church Under the Bridge" Sunday morning services, some of the faces have changed but the overall tragedy of lost lives has not. Read More ›
male homeless and his dog
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Beyond the “Vets, Pets, and Kids” View of Homelessness

This column starts my third year of weekly writing about homelessness, with the goal of learning, teaching, and eventually turning the columns into a book. Both human interest and intellectual interest propel me. I'll start with the human interest and the two words "suffered enough." The expression comes to mind every time I live in a homeless shelter for a few days and ask residents about their pasts. Read More ›
Vintage print of lunch time in farmhouse: boy, girls and children eat together in the kitchen and feed a pet dog
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Helping New York Orphans: What Went Wrong, and Right

The past two weeks I’ve given a largely positive view of how Charles Brace and others helped homeless children in New York (and other northeastern cities). But when orphan trains headed west from 1853 to 1929, sometimes things went wrong. Read More ›
A young American farmer sheep in a pen during sunset
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Go West, Children: How Charles Brace Placed Orphans in Families

Last week I wrote about how Charles Brace set up homes for homeless children but did not see institutionalization as ideal. He wondered whether it was possible to find thousands of families willing to take responsibility for the children of the streets. The problem seemed enormous. Brace wrote: "How were places to be found? . . . And when the children were placed, how were their interests to be watched over, and acts of oppression or hard dealing prevented or punished?" Read More ›
In 1789 a charming five year old chimney sweep toiled through tough days in the bustling streets embodying the spirit of a spirited eighteenth century street urchin
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Caring for Orphans in New York City

Two columns ago I mentioned Charles Brace's concern about high rents in New York City. When Brace founded the New York Children's Aid Society in 1853, he began by setting up religious meetings aimed at orphaned or abandoned boys from 10 to 18 who slept in alleys. Read More ›
A pioneer family on the frontier, amidst a vast prairie, setting up their homestead, gazes towards a hopeful horizon.
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Go West, Young Man (and Woman)

We often think westward migration was for males only. In 1862 the Homestead Act allowed land claims from “any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years.” Women, including those widowed by the Civil War, made one third of all homestead claims. Some men and women who made it to the Midwest and went no further became homeless. Read More ›