60th General Assembly
New Orleans, Louisiana
Vast numbers of people, possibly as many as two million, live on streets, in cars, or are obliged to lodge in public shelters and hotels. They lack food, hygiene, clothing, and medical care, and live in danger of assault. Rent has become so expensive in some cities that people on low wages cannot afford it, and face eviction, especially if temporarily unemployed or sick. The numbers of homeless people continue to increase and, at the current rate of growth over the next fifteen years, can be expected to rise to about 18.7 million Americans.
The main cause of homelessness today is the lack of affordable housing with a secondary cause being the well meaning, but cruel "de-institutionalization" of the mentally ill, a problem recognized and addressed by this Movement in a resolution passed in 1983. Over, the last fifteen years, the stock of housing available to families of low income has decreased. Since 1975, 4.5 million dwelling units affordable to low income families have been lost, some to decay and demolition, some to conversions. In many cities gentrification of neighborhoods has displaced low and middle income families in favor of higher income families. Another million units of federally assisted privately owned housing may be lost through termination of low income restrictions or expiration of subsidy contracts.
Even as the need for affordable housing has been increasing, the federal budget for low income housing programs has been decreasing from $32 billion in 1979 to $8 billion in 1988. Government sponsored new housing starts declined from 250,000 in 1979 almost to none in 1988. Moreover, cuts in public assistance programs have made many poor people unable to pay for basic life necessities. While much has been accomplished by local governments and non-profit organizations, and more can be expected, even all of them together cannot fill the painful need left by federal abandonment of poor people.
"Since 1980," Jonathan Kozol has written in his book RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN, "homelessness has changed its character...the chilling fact...is that small children have become the fastest growing sector of the homeless." Children and their families account for more than half of the homeless in some large cities and one-third overall throughout the United States. The demand for food and shelter for homeless families grows yearly. They encounter crowded, unsafe sleeping quarters, inadequate nutrition and clothing, lack of access to medical, dental, and mental health facilities. Without a place to call home, children experience social isolation, neglect, fragmented education, disintegration of their families, substance abuse, family violence and child abuse. Unaided, these children will become the helpless, deprived, and homeless adults whom we failed to rescue in their earlier years. This human misery is a stain on the national life of our country, the more deplorable in that it has occurred at a time of great prosperity for the rest of the nation.
Public shelters, advocated in the UAHC 1983 resolution on homelessness, have been build and expanded in many cities with partial funding from the United States Government under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Public emergency shelters, though necessary to preserve life and safety, are only temporary measures. What is needed is a national commitment to create affordable housing for all and public assistance funds which will enable people to pay their rent. Most importantly we must eliminate homelessness and impoverishment of children in order to provide them a more humane environment for their development and education.
THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Affirm that decent, safe, and sanitary housing is a fundamental necessity of life to which all people are entitled.
- Call upon the Congress of the United States to create a national housing policy which addresses the need for adequate and affordable housing for all.
- Call upon the Congress of the United States to budget financial assistance sufficient to ensure:
- implementation of such a national housing policy, and;
- the funding of alleviating programs including rehabilitation and new construction.
- Urge members of Congress to:
- pursue programs (including tax incentives for appropriate parties) to help alleviate the low-income housing crisis and:
- acknowledge that while efforts by state and local government, non-profit organizations, and the private sector are commendable and helpful, Federal programs are essential to assure a sufficient quantity of adequate and affordable housing.
- Recommend the establishment in the Department of Housing and Urban Development of a new Office of Affordable Housing Preservation for the purpose of preserving existing affordable housing for low-income and moderate income persons.
- Ask appropriate governmental authorities to permit, and encourage Members of Congress to support, greater procedural flexibility to eliminate regulatory barriers to low-income housing which do not effect accountability, health, safety or the needs of the disabled.
- Call upon the Congress and governmental authorities everywhere to give special priority to the needs of children and their families for decent, safe, and sanitary housing.
- Urge members of our congregations to become involved in this issue in their local communities and to evaluate their own business decisions in light of how these decisions affect those who live in low-income housing.
- Encourage member congregations to continue meeting emergency needs by providing temporary shelter, to expand their efforts to address the only long-range solution - permanent affordable housing - and to become actively involved in these issues in their communities and to support local community non-profit development organizations focusing on low-income housing.
- Call upon member congregations to conduct programs to educate their congregants as to the seriousness of the housing problem, especially as it affects children and their families, and to join with other institutions in urging public and private remedies.
- Applaud those congregations that have already begun working on homelessness and the need for affordable housing.
- Call upon the Canadian government to take all applicable steps within their governmental and private systems to achieve the goals outlined in this resolution.