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February 6, 2013

ANDERSON: A brief history of poverty and homelessness


Clark and Floyd counties were no exceptions. There was the birth of the Community Mental Health Center, the Community Action programs, Head Start programs, health department programs, vocational rehabilitation programs — and many others sprang forward. In essence, the birth of nonprofit organizations began during this period. 

By 1985 however, people were singing the blues. Despite the lowered numbers of those living in poverty and the increase in the middle class, despite stronger education levels, and in spite of the growing strain on the domestic budget, the Graham Rudman Act was born. 

I remember it well. I had worked at the Community Action Agency for five years and was a public service employee making $9 an hour, I had started in the CETA funded program at $3.85 per hour only five years earlier and it had led to full-time employment. It was also one of the training programs that would be revised and eventually eliminated. 

As the bill read, the domestic budget had to be balanced and had to be “pulled” into a balanced condition. That meant automatic cuts up to 75 percent of their original budgetary amount. The act eliminated funding for the Community Services Administration and in Indiana that meant 92 Community Action agencies had to be trimmed down to 26 regional agencies. It was a very difficult adjustment for the organizations serving the poor and an even harder one for the poor. 

HUD still has not reached the levels of the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program of 1983. 

The trickle-down theory of the 1980s did not reduce taxes. We all know that. They did redefine the priorities. We began to resent the poor, to fear them, and to criminalize them. Poor was no longer a condition — it was a crime. The federal government passed the responsibility to the states, the states to the local communities, and many now try to pass it on to the churches. 

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