Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky
University of Louisville

Susan Buchino, PhD, OTR/L
Catherine Fosl, PhD
Lora Haynes, PhD
Kelly Kinahan, PhD
Linda Omer, PhD
Diane Zero, MEd

Homelessness is on the rise nationally, and it is among the most vexing of social problems, one that touches on aspects of virtually every other social policy in a given community and nation. The United States (U.S.) Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness as “sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation OR living in a homeless emergency shelter.”16 Not only does homelessness severely impact the wellbeing of the individuals and families experiencing it, it is costly to society at local, state, and national levels.

Homelessness has long been seen as a complex, multidimensional “social phenomenon often associated with mental illness, poor health, unemployment, and severe poverty.”22 In the U.S. (and therefore in Louisville), all four of those correlates have in recent decades propelled an overall increase in homelessness, as well as some changes in its character. Deindustrialization and wider changes in the U.S. economy after the 1970s have resulted in greater concentrations of wealth, stagnation of wages at the economy’s lower levels, and corresponding declines in public funding for many wider social safety net programs. More recently, the Great Recession and the associated foreclosure crisis devastated many families, negatively affecting their employment, savings, and homes, with communities of color experiencing some of the worst outcomes. This series of events—the unraveling of that safety net, the 2008 recession and banking crisis, then the opioid and drug crises that have exploded in the last few years, means that the “bootstrap” ideology that suggests that anyone can lift themselves out of poverty with enough hard work and perseverance is simply not working out for many Americans.

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