Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

Marvin Olasky

datapoints journals
Man holding magazines; panoramic banner
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Examining the Scholarly Record

The academic journal literature on homelessness is vast, but during the past decade oversimplification has ruled. The Obama administration made “Housing First!” the official U.S. policy, with homeless people to be given their own apartments. Programs that emphasized “Clean and Sober first” became ineligible for federal aid, and mental health issues became secondary. Typical academic analyses of homelessness found — surprise! — that “Housing First!” is great. A lot of scholarly research up to 2009, though, revealed homelessness complexities. Here are four examples:  Key insights:Homeless adults who are alcoholics have “unusually high levels of mental health symptomatology…. Adults with alcohol problems are so debilitated that they readily become homeless (as compared to being domiciled under very trying circumstances) when also Read More ›

distorted image of street
Distorted image of a town street on a rainy day with rare ray of sun shining through crystal ball
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

A Different View of Homelessness

The relationship of homelessness and mental illness is complex. Some disorders precede time on the streets and some result from it, but Ullman is right to note that “individuals who spend long periods living unsheltered have a very high prevalence” of serious mental illness and debilitating substance-use. Read More ›
silhouettes line
People crowd shadows lined up against a red brick wall. They are in a queue for changes in life. Social distance, covid and immigration issue concept
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Varieties of Homelessness

After seven months of getting back into the flow of writing about poverty, my New Year’s resolution is to continue doing ground-level or historical columns, but to try as well to map out the overall debate and see what each side has to contribute. Read More ›
Schizophrenic man holding his head
Schizophrenic man holding his head

Hearing Voices

Julius Caesar began his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars with a sentence that Latin students once memorized: Translated literally into English, it reads, “Gaul is a whole divided into three parts.” When delving into homelessness causes, it’s useful to keep in mind that homelessness is both a whole and a hole into which people fall for three main reasons: mental illness, alcoholism/addiction, and housing costs. Many journalists emphasize housing costs, partly because many live in expensive coastal cities. Off the coast, with the exception of a few cities like Austin, it’s different. As I learned in Flint and Pontiac, Michigan — columns to come — apartment cost is not a big factor in many cities that have lost population in Read More ›

Golden lion in inner court of Hampton Court, London
Golden lion in inner court of Hampton Court, London

Homelessness in 16th Century England, Pt. 2

Two weeks ago I wrote about English homeless policy during the century before the Pilgrims voyaged to America. Here’s a little more examination of what we can learn from that period, starting in 1531 with the way Sir Thomas Elyot, an English diplomat, peered at homeless people through a coach window. Elyot reacted like some of us respond to those holding at spotlights signs requesting cash: He called them “beasts brute and savage.” Pamphleteer Philip Stubbes countered with a compassionate approach: “God commandeth in his law that there be no miserable poor man, nor begger amongest us, but that everyone be provided for and maintained of that abundance which God hath blessed us withal.” Stubbes scoffed at the stingy: “We Read More ›

An engraved illustration of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving England, from a Victorian book dated 1886 that is no longer in copyrigh
An engraved illustration of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving England, from a Victorian book dated 1886 that is no longer in copyrigh

Lessons of Thanksgiving

I hope all those reading this will have a happy Thanksgiving. Four centuries ago the pilgrims who had survived two winters in Massachusetts—most did not—were happy to be alive, and in a place where they could own land and prosper. Read More ›
poor homeless beggar sleeping on pathway floor in suffering of unemployment asking for help
poor homeless beggar sleeping on pathway floor in suffering of unemployment asking for help

Jeremiah Pruitt

Here’s one good criticism of a book about poverty-fighting programs I wrote 23 years ago, Compassionate Conservatism: “Olasky tells about the people who have established these programs. We do not hear the stories of people who have been helped by them.” Last month I wrote about two long-term homeless people, Barry Meyer and Stephanie Creighton. Both have found help in changing their lives. Meyer has just made a down payment on a home of his own: He wrote me (and sent a photo) on October 30: “Tonight is my last night in a shelter. I’m buying this and move in tomorrow.” Here’s a story about another formerly homeless man, Jeremiah Pruitt, 38, who vividly recalls the fire that changed his Read More ›