10 Reasons Why - Homeless Growth

The Longest Period of Growing Homelessness
In the History of the United States

Sue Watlov Phillips, M.A.
Founding member and Vice President of National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH)
Executive Director, Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing – MICAH

Many of us providing services in the late 1970s and early 1980s to people experiencing homelessness warned our political leaders and faith community that if we didn’t make significant structural changes, we would be in the mess we are in today.

Yet, in 2019, the media and many in our society
continue to blame people for becoming homeless.

In reality, 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, over 1/2 of Americans are 1 to 3 paychecks away from not making rent or mortgage payments, and 50% of our American population will/ has/ or had a mental health and/or chemical health issue.

If you have money, you have housing. If you don’t have money, you are at risk of homelessness, especially if you have any personal health issues!

We are all responsible for the moral and structural causes of homelessness in our country.

Here are the ten primary reasons why people are becoming homeless today:

1. Limited moral outcry to love and treat others as ourselves. People impacted are not allowed and/or at decision making tables.

2. Greed: ME and MY needs are more important than we the people and the common good.

3. Housing is treated as a commodity, not a basic need. In Minnesota, through our tax expenditure budget we will subsidize primarily white homeowners housing $1.5 Billion in the next biennium. We have great disparities in use of our resources, including the disparity in homeownership between white and non-white persons. We are the 5th worst state in the country in this disparity ( in 2013 we were the worst in the country).

4. Lack of or no enforcement of our civil rights and fair housing laws - Discrimination against our diverse communities and across income levels continues to increase.

5. Wages/ Social Security/ Unemployment/ Public assistance are not livable incomes. If you have money, no matter what other issues you have, you typically can get housing. Fastest growing percentage of our population experiencing homelessness are our seniors unable to afford housing.

6. Demolition/loss of housing without replacement. Demolition of Residential hotels in 1960s-1970s. Tax code change in 1986: Drove out of business our ma-and-pa landlords, complicated the housing development process, and required sophisticated and well-funded investors to use the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. 170,000 (NOAH) Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing Units at risk of conversion in the Twin Cities Metro area, that is about ¾ of our rental property that rents for $500-1200/month.

7. Credit Expanded in 1970s - Buy now, pay later became the norm. Debt increases.

8. Disinvestment in opportunities for people with limited resources in housing, jobs, social services, education, health care. The dismantling the mental health asylums without creating the promised community housing. We capped domestic program spending, and pitted them against each other while we built up war and defense budget and tax breaks for wealthiest. This began in the 1970s, expanded in the 1980s with President Reagan and a Democratic Congress, and has continued to NOW.

9. Scams in the housing and homeless industries with little or no consequences for the perpetrators. We have had over 150,000 foreclosures since 2007 in MN. Homeless Counts do not include most of people using homeless services. We spend more money on data collection than on shelter in MN. There are few or no expectations for those living in supportive housing.

10. To rent housing; a criminal, credit, and rental check is almost always completed. Anything on your record may keep you out of rental housing. We do not teach our children these basic living skills. Only a credit check is done when you buy a home and that is not done if you buy with cash.

Over the last 4 decades we have continued to experience the ongoing growth of homelessness as we fail to address the structural causes of homelessness.

Homelessness is caused by our inequitable structural issues, not just people’s personal issues.

We must invest in equitable opportunities and solutions, which includes people impacted at all decision making tables and a balanced continuum of: Housing and Affordable Housing, Rental and Homeownership, livable incomes (wages and public assistance), accessible, affordable, culturally appropriate health care, human services, and transportation, excellent educational and job training opportunities, and assurance that everyone’s civil rights are respected, protected, and enforced.

We need to decide:

Are we going to continue to blame people for being homeless and manage homelessness through a rapidly growing homeless services industry for another four decades?


Are we going to be responsible and live out our faith, assist people experiencing homelessness now, make the structural changes needed to bring our community, state and nation HOME, and live out our pledge to be One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All!