American History of Homelessness

Taking cues from England, the United States has had a strong history of helping people that find themselves homeless. The first known rescue mission was established in New York City in 1872, but community programs were in place for many years previous to this time. At the end of the American Civil War, many people were left without homes and this started a new counterculture in the country that was given the name of hobohemia.

This counterculture reached epic proportions during the Great Depression of the 1930s when many families were no longer able to afford their homes and traveled along a migrant worker trail to where they could find work. It is thought that over two million people were homeless at this time and suffered severely from hunger and extreme poverty. Although this situation did improve somewhat as the country came out of the recession, laws that were passed in the 1960s and 1970s brought more homeless people into the streets as they were removed from psychiatric hospitals.

Unfortunately, homelessness in the United States has remained a constant presence in all of the major cities, with most locations developing certain areas where homeless people congregate. In New York City, this area is called the Bowery and is comprised of alcoholics, drug addicts, and other people who are homeless. Because of the large number of homeless in NYC, churches began to stop offering shelter and libraries stopped allowing the homeless to come into the facilities. The homeless population is still quite large in NYC, but it has largely moved into hidden places, such as unused subway tunnels and under bridges. Instead of helping to deal with the homeless program, the policies that have put into place have made it even more difficult for a true change in the number of people that have nowhere to live.