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Book Review: ‘No Longer Homeless: How the Ex-Homeless Get and Stay Off the Streets’

David Wagner and Gemma Atticks provides an overview of the causes and cures for homelessness from an often-neglected perspective — the experiences of people on the streets.

You can’t always judge a book by its title. In the case of “No Longer Homeless,” that’s a good thing. The subtitle, “How the Ex-Homeless Get and Stay Off the Streets,” definitely sounds like this is a book destined for the self-help (or maybe the social work) shelves, implying that getting off the streets is a matter of individual initiative and discipline.

However, once readers get into the section titled “The Causes of Homelessness,” they’ll know there’s a different perspective here. The section lists, in order, the “decline of industrial labor in the United States”; “a steep decline in affordable housing” and “a decline in the value and … existence of social welfare programs and benefits,” followed by “deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals and facilities” and the “war on drugs.” Only at the end of the list does the book talk about drug and alcohol abuse itself as a possible factor, but points out that “the fact that a homeless person … takes a drink does not mean that this was the cause of his or her homelessness, and the same goes for drugs.”

It’s a self-help book, all right, but it’s aimed at helping Americans get over the idea that homelessness is mainly the result of personal failings. Wagner and Atticks’ purpose in writing the book was to use personal stories of formerly homeless people to both show that most people on the streets eventually go on to have functioning lives, and that what makes the difference is financial and other support to stop being homeless and stay housed.

Not surprising, given the list of causes the authors give, the solutions are equally social in nature. An important factor in whether people can get off the streets is the ability to secure low-cost, and, generally, subsidized housing. Equally important is receiving some degree of dependable income — usually SSI or Social Security — and other social benefits. As the authors point out, “getting a job” by itself, given how low wages generally are in the casual labor market, is often not enough to pay even the lowest available rents.

Read Full Article (via Real Change)

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