By Maryse IsmaSpecial to CSMS MagazineIntroductionWhen one thinks of social security, one usually thinks of the elderly; but the Social Security system was not designed to be the main source of income for the elderly. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2000), Social Security was originally intended to be used as a form of insurance that would supplement other assets when retirement, disability, or death of a wage-earning spouse occurs. This fact, to these days, remains the main reason behind keeping Social Security alive. But does it really work? With so many people are found living off the street everyday, and thousands more whose homeless shelters are the only home they know? One wonders if it isn’t time for a major overhaul of the system. In a two-part report, Maryse Isma (MSW) analyzes the impact that homelessness has on the American society. The first part focuses on the historical framework of this pertinent problem. Historical FrameworkIn 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, the country was in a Great Depression. Forty percent of the population in some states was receiving local and state public relief money. Pressure grew for the federal government to bail out the devastated states by bringing finance public relief for those living in poverty. Conditions were so desperate that [many] political leaders became concerned that there might be a Socialist or Communist revolution in this country (Zastrow, 2000). Zastrow also stated, that nearly fifteen million people were unemployed at the height of the Great Depression. These formerly unemployed workers are selling apples as part of a plan devised by the International Apple Association to help meet the demand for Jobs.As a result of the Great Depression, in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had congress passed the Social Security Act, which forms the basis of most of our current social welfare programs. Henceforth, the federal legislation for the following three major categories of program was enacted: social insurance, public assistance, public health and welfare services.President Roosevelt created the Social Security Act to solve social problems such as poverty. Many defenders of Social Security assert that the program favors the poor and keeps the low-wage earning out of poverty. Those claims are mistaken (Barak, 1992). Since homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked, and poverty covers a broad aspect of social problems, it is important to focus on homelessness, which is one of the social problems that I believe that causes the creation of Social Security. Homelessness is not helplessness in the United States (Barak, 1992). According to Barak, homelessness became a social problem since the colonial era, when a segment of the American population was living without permanent dwelling. The numbers surged after the Civil war in the 1860s with discharged war veterans and immigrant laborers, and especially during the Great depression in the 1930s. In the beginning, this population was referred to as “hobos,” transients. In the late 1970s, when America began to see a starting increase of people who were forced to live on urban streets, the term “homeless” first entered the mainstream lexicon. The new phenomenon was seen as a shocking aberration, garnering media attention and causing public outcry.Problems With the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Homelessness became a social problem when the poor are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, healthcare, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped (Golden, 1998). Golden also stated that “being poor means being an illness, and/or a paycheck from living on the street.”Furthermore, homelessness became a social problem when there were problems with the SRO. The housing trend with a particularly severe impact on homelessness is the loss of single room occupancy (SRO) housing, which is another factor that causes homelessness in America. In the past, SRO housing served to house many poor individuals, including poor persons suffering from mental illness or substance abuse. From 1970 to the mid-1980s, [it was estimated] that one million SRO units were demolished (Rowe and Wolch, 1997). However, Rowe and Wolch (1997) stated that from 1970-1982, “New York City lost eighty seven percent of its two hundred dollars per month or less SRO stocks; Chicago experienced the total elimination of cubicle hotels; and by 1985, Los Angles had lost more that half of its stock of low-cost residential hotels. From 1970 to 1986, Portland, Oregon lost fifty nine percent of its residential hotels; and from 1971 t o 1981, Denver lost sixty four percent of its SRO hotels.” Thus the destruction of SRO housings was a major factor of how homelessness came into being a social problem.Moreover, when statisticians started to look at the statistics on homelessness, having the difficulty to count the homeless due to the transience of the life, then homelessness became a social problem. A 1989 study estimates that there were about twenty-five thousands (25,000) homeless children in urban shelters, four thousand ninety four (4,094) at churches, and nine thousand sixteen (9,016) in public places. In suburban areas, the numbers of homeless children had reached fourteen thousand four hundred twenty seven (14,474); and in rural areas, it was seven thousand three hundred fifty seven (7,357). There was another population, sometimes referred to as the “marginally homeless.” Those were people who were doubled up with other families and who would probably soon be out on these settings (Barak, 1992).The Goals and the Objectives of the Church Churches were the ones that thought homelessness to be a social problem. Since the 1900s, church members helped individuals in need. Local Missions and Local Outreach were vital parts of the churches. People took food to someone in need, listen to people and got to know them (McChesney, 1992). The goal was to open the doors of the fellowship hall in order to serve the homeless, provide them a warm place to sleep and a hot meal for the homeless (men and women.) All this was done with an objective to eradicate this major social problem. However, despite tremendous efforts put forward by these social institutions, the intensity of the problem proves to be too daunting. Experts agree that only governmental institutions can make true changes. According to McChesney, (1992) the First United Methodist Church, in Kissimmee, Florida, was one of the first communities that attempted to deal with the problem of homelessness. They opened their doors to the homeless when the temperatures dip below forty degrees; they were meeting the homeless’ physical and spiritual needs through weekly dinner followed by a worship service called Sunday Night Alive. It was done every Sunday at six pm. This provided temporary relief, but not long lasting solutions.Churches started to get overloaded with people in need through the Great Depression and force to send those in needs somewhere else. Ministers were tired and bruised from those in need and never having enough to give. Church workers were often given their last and churches were suffering from giving to people whose needs were more than what they can accommodate (McChesney, 1992). Consequently McChesney, (1992) stated that churches were suffering financially, so they started telling people to go for government help because that [is] why we pay taxes. However, the new understanding had forced these congregations to stop helping the needy. They believed that anyone could get help from the social services offered by the government through the taxes they paid. Many people, sadly, continue to believe in the say, “if they really wanted help they could get it!” But, the fact that it was true then, does not mean it is true now (p. 59-62)The Social Welfare System: Its Negative Effects on Many FamiliesFurthermore, the Social Welfare system is destroying families. Many families are placed into different shelters in different cities. Parents are being arrested by Child Protective Services when they apply for Emergency Assistance. A homeless parent is automatically breaking the law if found suddenly homeless. Parents are being arrested and kids go to foster care, now families are in danger (McChesney 1992, p.55).Social Programs and Their PoliciesBecause of the raising number of homeless, there are few social programs and policies that were designed to help solve the problem of homelessness. Wuerker (1997) said, “Though it seems as if this crisis has been pushed to the periphery of public awareness, homelessness activists are voicing hope.” One of the programs was the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). Paula Van Ness, director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) says “it is not [a] hopeless situation and we are not helpless. Both public agencies and non-profit organizations are finding ways to move people into permanent housing; and they are finding ways to help people get their lives on track.Maryse Isma, MSW, is a Barry University graduate, founder member the Center for Strategic and Multicultural Studies and the executive director of Community Support for Youth and Families (CSYF).