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February 6, 2013

ANDERSON: A brief history of poverty and homelessness

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of guest columns from Barbara Anderson on poverty and homelessness in the area.

Poverty is not a crime in America, it is our shame. We have chosen to turn our heads to the poverty in this country by not challenging those who make decisions about programming for the poor.

When examining how we got to the point of having an average of 80 people a night living in our Williams Emergency Shelter — or in the streets — we have to first understand how it happened to be in our community at all. Historically, there has been programming. Albeit not always the kind of programming we preferred, it was at least an attempt to make sure people were fed, clothed and sheltered.

That aid took many forms over the years. Work houses or poor homes (county homes) existed in all 92 counties. Ours was located on Ind. 62 and New Albany’s was located on Grant Line Road. Ironically, New Albany’s continued to house disadvantaged youth and now houses the National Guard. 

For many states at the turn of the century, we had township trustees. They were charged with being the overseers of the poor, and that particular system still exists in Indiana, Illinois and Texas. Indiana’s system is still the one that has the most direct approach to the poor.

In 1964, there was declared a “War on Poverty.” It was the Kennedy/Johnson answer to eradicating poverty in this country. It embodied every aspect of social programming needed to educate, retrain and employ the poorest of the poor. 

The birth of the VISTA program — Volunteers in Service to America — happened, which was somewhat akin to the Peace Corps on a domestic level. It produced many students and young professionals to help rebuild the inner city and provide service to poor and more rural states.

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