Helping Harvard and the Homeless

Brass Tacks

THE HOMELESS FAMILY is a problem of the future.

As Harvard Real Estate (HRE) prepares its bid on the land at St. Paul's parking lot over the next two weeks, a proposal has been introduced to use some of the space as a transitional living center for homeless families. Though the establishment of such a model dwelling for the homeless will not return the greatest immediate profit to HRE, the benefit to the University as a multidisciplinary sociological research project makes this transitional living center a valuable long-term investment.

The majority of America's one million homeless are people who have, for one reason or another, become detached from the fabric of American society. They are the victims of alcohol and drug abuse, the mentally ill, the uneducated and the unskilled, all trying desperately to make some sort of life in an unaccepting and unyielding society.

Many of these people have become homeless in the past two decades as a result of being cut off from family support networks. The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill also poured thousands of disturbed people onto the streets.

Within the past five to 10 years a new population has been added to the homeless ranks--the homeless family. Unlike generations of previous homeless people, the children of homeless families do not even have a role model situation based on living in some sort of stable and secure home, or any home for that matter. There is, then, a generation of people who are growing up homeless--who know nothing better to even aspire towards.

Worst of all is the absence of a role model. These homeless young people are simply growing up within the problem. Though such statistics are not yet available, many experts predict that this generation of homeless youth will serve as a solid base of homeless adults for years to come.

The frustrated and overburdened parents of these young people must have the opportunity to establish some sort of normal and reliable lifestyle for their children. The time to enact change is now, before the young homeless become the old homeless.

HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROVIDES an excellent resource center to establish the type of multidisciplinary project involved in a model transitional living center for the homeless family.

The problems of the homeless family stretch across the boundaries of economic, polictical, social and medical needs. Diverse resources are available on this campus, both in manpower and in research inerests. Surely, some combination of talent from the Kennedy School, the Business School, the Medical School, and the School of Public Health can be used to establish this unprecedented model living center for the homeless family.

Any suggestions for the transitional living center must provide the homeless family with temporary shelter, a counselor to help find more permanent housing, employment counseling, medical care and a variety of basic educational and social work needs.

The goal should be to foster the type of skills and opportunities that will allow a homeless family to return to the community. Once a family does return to the community, it could remain in contact with the center in order to continue follow research initiatives and to help resolve newly encountered problems.

The University will benefit by having the first academic model for the study of homelessness. Research on the problems of the homeless family as well as the remediation of these problems may be conducted on the "in-house" sample population of the transitional living center. Furthermore, many of the problems of the urban homeless family are similar to those of any socio-economically deprived group, thereby giving such research broad social applications beyond the limits of the homeless.

IT WOULD SEEM that the University would lose money by not building rental units at the St. Paul's parking lot site. However, only a small portion of the property's rental income need be diverted toward a residential center for homeless families. In addition, a fair amount of extra money may be attained by the University in the form of grants for research into the problems of the homeless family.

Some members of the community may object to a plan which provides housing for the homeless within the University neighborhood. However, judging from the outcry over last year's removal of homeless men from Leverett House heating grates, there seems to be a real sensitivity for the plight of the homeless. Given that the presence of the Lutheran Church shelter seems to be tolerable, it is likely that such a transitional living center would be an innocuous, and even welcome, addition to the neighborhood.

A good deal of sociological, economic and medical research has already gone into the defintion of the problem of homelessness. However, relatively little attention has yet been focused on the resolution of this problem. The establishment of a model transitional living arrangement would put Harvard on the forefront of research in this vital and practical field.

The evolution of an impoverished homeless class, somewhere below what is now called "low class," is not far off. The St. Paul's lot provides a wonderful opportunity for a major research institution to make an initiative at heading off the development of this homeless class.