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Growing numbers of the homeless and the poor are threatening the survival of American society, a leading urban developer said at a Kennedy School forum last night.
"A jungle of people, alienated, disaffected, with no stake in American culture, threaten our capacity as a nation," Enterprise Foundation Chair James W. Rouse told approximately 100 people last night in a speech titled "How Big a Priority for the Nation is Housing the Homeless and the Poor?"
"I believe down to the bottom of my soles that this society cannot survive with these conditions at the bottom," Rouse said.
Rouse added that high priced housing and low wages are driving people from many segments of society onto the streets, but that many business leaders and politicians have chosen to see homelessness as a problem primarily for alcoholics and the mentally ill.
"One Wall Street banker told me that with $50 million he could get rid of homelessness in New York," he said. "But it isn't a pool of people. It's a surging stream coming in from all over the country."
According to figures cited by Rouse, the 1980 census reported that 13 million Americans earn less than $10,000 a year, and between one-third and one-half of the homeless are working full-time or part-time.
And in addition to the 750,000 people living on the streets, 100,000 of which are children, another six million Americans "live at extreme risk in housing they can't afford," Rouse said.
"We haven't had this [level of homelessness] in my lifetime--not even during the Depression," Rouse added.
Two Kennedy School of Government professors responded to the address, saying that indifferent policymakers and wealthy citizens bear as much responsibility for recent poverty as Reaganomics does.
"The sad truth is that in many circles, housing is discussed not as a national issue, but as a Black issue or inner city issue," said Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning William C Apgar, Jr.
"The pathology of the affluent is the other side of the question," said lecturer in public policy Harry Spence. "How is it that the already empowered can allow such human misery and waste to continue unabated?"
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