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Waking up, looking to the left staring at the alarm clock, looking to the right out of the window so the rising sun. Stepping on to the cool crisp tile flooring of the bathroom. Pulling the plastic curtain back to warm up the flowing stream of shower water. Wiping the steam from the mirror to effectively style and prepare for the day. Walking down creaky wooden steps to enter into the kitchen. The sun now peaking through the sunflower curtains; breakfast waiting on the table. The smell of eggs, bacon, and toast permeating through the air. Now imagine instead of the iHome alarm clock it is the cold bitter winter air and the sounds of police sirens breaking the sleep. Instead of cool floor tiles it is ice-cold cement. Instead of a warm relaxing shower it is a leaky faucet. Instead of a clean bathroom mirror it is a scratched, abused, and shattered mirror of a public restroom. Instead of entering the kitchen, entering into the corner store with scrounged up change to get a bag of chips to start the day. Whether it is noticed or not, homelessness is a real problem here in the United States of America. Each month in 2011, an average of 1,595 people access services for homelessness. For the year, the total number of individuals utilizing services was 7,320—a 3 percent increase over 2010. (Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition, 2012) The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 defines people as homeless when they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence or when their primary residence is a temporary place for people about to be institutionalized, any place not meant for regular sleeping accommodation by humans, or a supervised temporary shelter. (Social Work Policy Institute) The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 is America’s first attempt to combat the plague that was homelessness. The act outlines meaning of homelessness and the federal governments plans and allocations to take it down. (National Coalition for the Homeless)Many people may believe that homelessness is caused by just sheer irresponsibility; however, what many fail to realize is the fact that some historical factors play into long generational spells of homelessness or poverty. Historical events such as the use of morphine during the civil war,to the industrial revolution, and even natural disasters can ruin lives for years to come. (Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness) The act itself is essential to current homeless crisis and also is within social workers’ responsibilities per the National Association of Social Workers code of ethics. In the preamble, it reads, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well¬being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” (National Association of Social Workers, 1999)The purpose of social workers is to help people in need and that is the goal of policies on homelessness.
Homelessness has been a persistent and enduring feature in American history. The players may change in the game but the rules still apply. There has always been some form of homelessness in the country. As time periods change the causes of homelessness have changed. For instance, during the colonial times from the 1660’s to the 1770’s the primary homeless were called “wandering poor” and the primary cause was caused by the recent increase in migration and the land territory skirmishes. Government intervention of the time was to corporally punish the citizens. During the Pre-Industrial Period, 1820–1850, the primary homeless were unemployed men; their reasons were the bumpy business cycle and the lack of stability in jobs in mills, mines, and on docks. The government of this time stepped in by allowing jails to provide overnight lodging or flat out imprisonment. Following the Civil War from 1870 to 1900, this time was known as the “vagabond” era filled with train hoppers and freed slaves in search of places to live. The cause of this displacement was anywhere from low employment to the number of immigrants entering the country. This time period brought out the Rhode Island Tramps Act of 1880 emulated by nearly every state designed to arrest and convict homeless people. During the Great Depression from the years 1929 to 1940, the bulk of the homeless population was the middle class employees, family’s, and African Americans. Breadlines, soup kitchens, shelters, and shantytowns began to pop up around the country in attempts to help relieve the depression of homelessness of the time. From the year 1980 to the present the homeless population consists of people with alcohol and drug abuse as well as families with children, and single people with highincidence of behavior disabilities. (Leginski, 2007) In the early 1980s, the initial responses to widespread and increasing homelessness were primarily local. Homelessness was viewed by the Reagan Administration as a problem that did not require federal intervention. In 1983, the first federal task force on homelessness was created to provide information to localities on how to obtain surplus federal property; this task force did not address homelessness through policy actions. After bipartisan disputes a reluctant President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on July 22, 1987. On October 30, 2000 President William Clinton renamed the legislation the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act after the death of Representative Bruce Vento, a leading supporter of the act since its original passage in 1987. (National Coalition for the Homeless).
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act uses the key words “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” to describe homeless people and those who would be eligible for the benefits the act provides.
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