I posted this to 'civic-values' today. I believe that it is relevant to the concerns of this list as well.
To set the context, I want people to recall the period between 1979 and 1989. There were no appreciable number of homeless people lying in the streets in 1979. By 1984, they were everywhere. By 1989, it had become a major national problem. This Friday night we'll all be treated to the 7th "Homeless Relief" on HBO.
But when the homeless began literally to pile up, cities and the country was caught totally off guard. Philadelphia ended up appropriating $32 million of our local funds for temporary shelters--much to the chagrin of taxpayer groups who argued that "social programs" were not the responsibility of local government (at precisely the time when the Reagan administration was arguing that they weren't the responsibility of the federal government either). Other cities faced equivalent crises, most of which cut deeply into their efforts to rebuild their downtown areas and recover from manufacturing losses generally.
For the entire decade, analysts debated what "caused" homelessness. Some said that it was cutbacks in federal funds for affordable housing. Others laid the blame on drugs and spousal abuse and deterioriation of the social infrastructure. Here in Pennsylvania, court rulings forced the closing of large mental institutions--even though there were not adequate community care facilities to accomodate the patients. Guess where many of them ended up?
Even at the time, I thought this was a silly debate. Several safety nets came apart in the 1980's as a direct result of the continued decline of the semi-skilled job market and federal cutbacks in housing and services for the poor. The relationship between the job losses and urban social problems was not properly understood then--and still isn't, for the most part. The federal cutbacks moved forward with broad public support from a middle-class 'fed up' with paying for 'them.' The result was homelessness on a large scale--and we're still paying this price.
We are now in precisely the same situation in relation to welfare reform. The broad public wants welfare recipients to work. Both the President and the Congress are supporting legislation that will put "forced work" into practice. Some version of this will be law by 1996.
The impression conveyed to the public--and even most advocates-- is that the "two years on welfare or off" clock starts ticking in 1996 and that crunch time comes later in the decade. This isn't accurate. Even under existing Familiy Assistance Act programs, states must enroll a certain percentage of their populations in work or training-to-work programs or risk losing federal JOBS funds--by 1996. Now the same sort of restriction will apply to basic funding for welfare itself. And many Governors with their own commitment to "welfare reform" are moving forward on their own programs with or without the federal government.
Pennsylvania turns out to be one of them. Information keeps leaking out that provisions will be put into place early by 1996 that will force welfare recipients to work--by January--or lose cash assistance. 16,000 women with 33,000 children will be at risk in Philadelphia alone.
I do not yet have the specific requirements here--but I will get them and post them soon. Suffice it to say that everyone I know who has seen these new provisions are horrified by them.
I suspect that that similar "reforms' are unfolding throughout the country...and we can get a sense of them from the Health and Human Service links to "State Welfare Reform Proposals" that are found in the Health and Human Service Web Pages on Neighborhoods Online.
Will "forced work" provide the needed corrective to permanent dependency that conservatives claim, or will it be an outright social disaster?
The answer many vary from city to city, depending on local economic conditions and the size of the welfare population.
So if you live in our around a city--or just want to adopt one for purposes of analysis--here are a few simple questions that you should ask.
I will be posting information about Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in relation to these issues as it becomes available. I invite others on the lists receiving this message to do the same.
The country was caught totally off-guard by the emergence of the homeless in the 1980's.
Anyone who takes the trouble to answer these questions shouldn't be shocked when the ranks of the homeless start to explode.
Ed Schwartz, Institute for the Study of Civic Values,
1218 Chestnut St., Rm. 702,
Philadelphia, Pa. 19107
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