History of Homelessness and Housing

Have you ever questioned why there are so many people homeless in America, one of the wealthiest countries in the world?

Is it because poor people are lazy and rich people work hard? While every person who becomes homeless has a personal story with personal reasons, underneath that are systemic reasons that have led to mass homelessness in America. Mass homelessness has emerged as a result of federal policies and market reactions, not because of the actions of homeless people themselves. Homeless people do not cause mass homelessness.                                            

We have not always had mass homelessness in America. In 1978 there were an estimated 100,000 people homeless in America. Compare that to 2010, when there were an estimated 3.5 million people homeless in America, 1.35 million of them children. Prior to the 1980s, the last period of mass homelessness in America was during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when 1 million Americans were estimated to experience homelessness—a gure which pales in comparison to our current crisis. Put simply, we have more people experiencing homelessness in America today than ever before.                        

Mass homelessness reemerged in America in the early 1980s, at the same time that the federal government made massive cuts to funding for affordable and low-income housing. During the 1980s, homelessness tripled or quadrupled in many US cities and, in response, emergency shelters began to open up all across America.                

Because the federal response to homelessness over the last three decades has been so ineffective in meeting the needs of local communities, local governments have resorted to punitive policing aimed at people experiencing homelessness. Pressured by business people, cities pass legislation that aims to drive homeless people out of sight: laws that criminalize —that make into municipal offenses—everyday, life-sustaining activities such as sleeping, sitting down, or covering oneself with a blanket.

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Without Housing

To learn more about how mass homelessness came about and why we are not getting out of it, read ‘Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures’ written by WRAP in 2006 and updated in 2010.  


The federal government played a major role in creating homelessness by cutting tens of billions of dollars from affordable housing programs beginning in the early 1980s. Relying on the market to deliver affordable housing has only worsened the problem. Since then, every federal plan to address homelessness has primarily focused on “fixing” homeless people rather than the broken housing system. 

It is time we look back at the root of this crisis and invest in the housing every human deserves.

Denver’s Decade of Doom: History of the Camping Ban Zine

The Denver Camping Ban passed City Council and became law on May 14th 2012. Now, May 14th, 2022, we as a community are looking back on these past 10 years of criminalizing survival without housing with grievance and anger. This zine gives a brief history of the Denver Camping Ban – the politics of its passage, its enforcement, its effects, our fight back, and the current state.   

Read the Denver Camping Ban History Zine here.