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FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Nov 23, 2000


     Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ America is riding atop the longest economic boom
of its history. Incomes have risen, unemployment has fallen, and
cities like New York are bursting with new office buildings.

But just a short walk from Manhattan's skyscrapers, George Brown
sits on the sidewalk, cooking a lunch of rice and bits of fish over
a can of cooking fuel.

Brown, a 62-year-old former construction worker, is among more
than 2 million people in the United States _ including some 17,000
in New York City _ who are estimated to be homeless at least once
in any given year.

This Thanksgiving, while many Americans enjoyed turkey at home,
Brown's invitation came from a church group.

During the day, he collects aluminum cans and sells them for 5
cents apiece. At night, he bundles up in discarded blankets and
sleeps on the concrete.

``I've been on the street about eight years, eight or nine
years, something like that,'' he says. ``I seem to get addicted to
the street.''

Despite decades of public assistance, well-meaning policies and
charity, America's homeless remain on the street _ reminding those
who notice that the soaring economy has left some people behind.
The question of why so many people are without shelter is vexingly

Many experts agree that mental illness and addiction to alcohol
and drugs play a role. As the number of street people grew in the
United States during the early 1980s, experts cited the release of
people from mental institutions as a contributing factor. In recent
years, though, many advocates and academic researchers have argued
that a significant cause of homelessness is simply a lack of
low-income housing.

The number of apartments in New York City renting for less than
$500 a month has fallen drastically in the past decade _ from more
than 920,000 to fewer than 420,000 apartments, according to U.S.
Census figures.

Experts say this lack of ``affordable'' housing is also making
it difficult for the working poor to stay housed.

``Sometimes I wonder what makes me, as smart as I am, to be in
this position,'' Brown said. He acknowledges that alcohol has been
a problem for him, and said he also has smoked crack cocaine. But
he also thinks that if there were cheaper housing, ``I could help
myself. I could pay at least $20 a day'' _ or $560 a month, raised
from gathering cans and scrap metal.

With the strong economy, the U.S. unemployment rate has shrunk
to a 30-year low _ 3.9 percent last month. Across New York City,
new luxury apartments are rising to meet a strong demand. But there
are fewer new housing complexes for the poor, and U.S. Census
figures show the median gross rent in the city rose more than 27
percent between 1984 and 1999 _ from $549 to $700 a month, when
adjusted for inflation.

Many small apartments in Manhattan now rent for $1,500 a month
or more.

``You can't get any place cheap now,'' Brown said, motioning to
nearby high-rise apartments.

In an estimate released earlier this year, researchers at The
Urban Institute found that at least 2.3 million adults and children
in the United States are likely to be homeless at least once during
a year. Defining who is homeless can be tricky, and many experts
are skeptical of efforts to count the homeless.

But there is broad agreement now that one key solution to
homelessness is more subsidized housing.

``One of the perverse side effects of the strong economy is that
rents have been going up,'' said Patrick Markee, senior policy
analyst with the New York-based Coalition for the Homeless. ``The
majority of people who experience homelessness really just need
some affordable housing assistance.''

Due to the scarcity of housing in New York and some other large
cities, new low-income housing should be built, Markee said.

A study released by New York University researchers in 1998
suggested that the scarcity of low-income housing is a primary
cause of homelessness in New York City.

The researchers concluded that regardless of any social
disorders, 80 percent of the homeless families interviewed _ after
being provided with subsidized housing _ remained stably housed in
the same apartment for at least one year.

Of the homeless families who didn't receive subsidized housing,
only 18 percent found permanent housing, mostly by moving in with
relatives or friends.

The study was based on interviews with more than 550 families.
About half of them were homeless families who were requesting
shelter, and the other half were randomly drawn from the city's
public assistance rolls and had never been homeless. Each family
was interviewed twice _ once in 1993 and once five years later.

``Individuals who were given subsidized housing tended to stay
housed,'' said Beth Weitzman, a co-author of the study and
associate professor of health and public administration.

Brendan O'Flaherty, a Columbia University economics professor,
agrees on the importance of housing.

In considering the causes of homelessness, O'Flaherty said in
his book, ``Making Room: The Economics of Homelessness,'' that
mental health and substance abuse are of lesser importance and
argued that major causes include income inequality and a lack of
housing that the poor can afford.

The best possible solution, he said in a recent interview, is
``universal access to some money for housing with very few strings

But another economist, Dirk Early, disagrees.

``This is not just a housing problem,'' said Early, an associate
professor of economics at Southwestern University in Georgetown,

In his research, Early has concluded that a simple expansion of
existing housing programs will have little effect on the number of
homeless because such programs aren't targeted toward those likely
to be homeless.

Mental illness and addiction to alcohol and drugs are key
causes, and they require better treatment, he said.

``Some of these people need to be institutionalized,'' he said.
``There needs to be a sizable increase in the aid toward the
mentally ill.''

Being homeless in New York City can be particularly difficult.
The administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has cracked down on
violators of so-called ``quality of life'' crimes, such as sleeping
or drinking alcohol in public. This month, the mayor ordered a
renewed crackdown on panhandlers, prostitutes and noisemakers.

``Before Giuliani came in, I used to sleep in the all-night
movie on 43rd Street. That was a good home,'' Brown said. Before
the pornographic theater closed, he used to spend $7 to sleep there
through the night. He also used to sleep in the subways.

Brown said he has a daughter who lives in the Bronx.

But ``she's got her rules and regulations, and I've got my rules
and regulations,'' he said. For one thing, he said, his daughter
doesn't allow him to drink in the house.

``I used to see my daughter all the time. Now, she hasn't been
down here in ... a month or something,'' he said.

When he mentions his seven grandchildren, his face brightens.

``All I've got to do is clean up my act,'' he said. The question
of why he remains on the street, however, has no simple answer.

``Sometimes I don't know,'' he said. ``I can't figure myself

On the Net:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:

The Urban Institute:

AP-ES-11-23-00 1330EST
Received Id AP100328A81E8CDD on Nov 23 2000 12:31



National Coalition for the Homeless
1012 Fourteenth Street, NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005-3405
Phone: 202-737-6444
Fax: 202-737-6445
Email: nch@ari.net
Web: http://nch.ari.net

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
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9000+ articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people
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