DEEPLY DISTURBED AND ENSHROUDED BY MYTH, many are victims of alcohol, family breakdown — and well-intentioned social policies gone awry. Most need more than housing to solve their problems.
FORTUNE Magazine, November 23, 1987, by Myron Magnet, Reporter Associate William E. Sheeline
Weren’t these characters supposed to have gone out with the Depression, even with Dickens’s London? What are they doing among the suave urban towers of postmodern America, these dirty, disheveled figures, discordantly haunting the era of health clubs, power lunches, and automated teller machines? Who are they — and what’s gone wrong, with them or with the U.S. economy, that we thread our way through increasing numbers of homeless fellow citizens, pitiable or alarming, in the streets, the train and subway stations, even all over Lafayette Park in the shadow of the White House?
These questions don’t have single, simple answers, for the homeless are not a unified mass but rather several distinct subgroups at the margin of American society. They fell into their plight for different reasons. Many were unintentionally harmed by social policies designed to help them. Others are casualties of the Vietnam war, or of the fraying of America’s social fabric over the past two decades, or of economic shifts that have made life at the margin more precarious.
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