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“There’s Been No Real Creative Response:” Ted Houghton on Homelessness in New York City

As the federal government drastically reduced funding for low-income housing during the 1980ís and 1990ís, homelessness emerged as a new and serious issue in many urban areas. Between one and three million Americans became homeless during the 1980ís as the minimum wage fell in value and the creation of affordable housing came to a virtual standstill. By the end of the decade one-third of homeless Americans were children. As the homeless population grew, so did the number of organizations created to serve and organize the men, women, and families living in the streets or in over-crowded shelters. Ted Houghton was an organizer for Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group founded in 1981 and dedicated to the principle that decent shelter, sufficient food, affordable housing, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society.

Listen to Audio:

HOUGHTON: They are moving people on out of the public sight, but there’s really no place to move them to the city municipal shelter system is just, is an unsafe barrack style residences. The first place that you have to go if you enter the city shelter system in New York is Atlantic Avenue Armory and that’s got 990 beds for men all in one big drill floor room. You’ve got mentally ill, you got substance abusers, you’ve got people that work 40 hours a week all in the same room, sleeping three feet, beds three feet away. There’s been no real creative response to the problem, basically they’ve just been holding steady. It’s the result of policies on all levels of government. I think the most blame can be left on the door step of the federal government. The Bush administration and the Reagan administrations over the last eleven years of their administrations they’ve spent $7 billion nationwide constructing low-income housing. In the late 70s we were spending $7 billion a year in New York City alone. In the last ten years the federal government has gotten out of the business of building low-income housing and the city government and the state government have been slow to jump into the void, understandably so, they’ve got enough problems as it is. But I think now they are finally realizing that somebody’s got to do it.

Source: Interviewed by Stephen Brier, 1992
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads