Homelessness: A New Epidemic (1980s)


In the 1980s, homelessness became epidemic in cities where it had once been a rarity. This change corresponded with the early stages of gentrification in New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans, among others. In their book, Beside the Golden Door: Policy, Politics, and Homelessness, James Wright, Beth Rubin, and Joel Devine identify the 1980s as a major turning point for homelessness. Not only had the numbers of the homeless ballooned, their profile had changed. The “new homeless” of the 1980s were more likely to sleep on the streets because cities were clearing their single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) and other low-rent forms of housing to make way for retail and tourist development. The “new homeless” were also more likely to be women and children, to be belong to racial and ethnic minorities, and to be much poorer than their predecessors. In other words, the homeless were no longer indigent white men, but families facing systematic disadvantage.


Photo: Brenda Ann Kenneally, “Nezette Tyson and Her Family in East New York near the Shelter,” New York Magazine. March 2017.
James Wright, Beth Rubin, and Joel Devine. Beside the Golden Door: Policy, Politics, and Homelessness. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1998, pp.20-23.