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Simon Communities in Ireland has been a fundamental supporting organization for homeless people ever since Anton Wallich-Clifford set its foundations in the 1960s. As a probation officer in London, Anton was in charge with some of the situations around people who, sleeping rough, were caught for minor infringements of the law. It was his decision for a different approach that ultimately led to Simon Communities developing into a multi-based organization that is nowadays able to provide accommodation and settlement to many people in Ireland who have lost their home due to various different reasons. Anton set up the first hospitality home for people he had seen sleeping in doorways and derelict buildings after he previously visited the places to bring people food and to know their stories. A visit to Ireland served for a group of volunteers to organize the first soup -- run in Dublin in 1969 and the fate of the Simon Communities in Ireland was sealed. By 1999, thousands of homeless people had been cared for by Simon and the number grew in years to come. Anton was inspired in his approach by the work of social reformers such as Dorothy Day who, along with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement in the United States, Abbe Pierre who founded the Emmaus Community in France and Mario Borelli who worked with homeless children in Naples. Above being brought together by an imminent desire to help homeless people in a practical way, they all shared a vision to reach out and accept, while befriending, those who had been ostracized by society. This is why, in this paper, we will address the history of homeless shelters and, all in all, the beliefs which ultimately served the materializing of homeless shelters' purposes.
One cannot talk about homeless shelters without bringing into equation the issue of homelessness which is why, in the following, we will firstly address some of the factual conditions leading up and indeed preceding this social problem which societies all over the world face nowadays. A specific moment in time related to homelessness cannot be determined with accuracy since it is considered that homeless people have always been present inside communities. It is more of an issue of acknowledging their presence and addressing the concerns as to the rapid development of homelessness that rather defines a timely framework in relation to the 1980s. However, it is relevant to touch on some of the earlier social and economic conditions that are considered to have contributed to the spread of homelessness. This is because homeless shelters, as seen by the social reformers who established them, were as much ideologically conceived as they were practically built. People like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin believed that homelessness was the byproduct of a society upon which industrialism and materialism had put the mark of greed in decades preceding their work.
By the 1820s, the Industrial Revolution that had initially emerged in England within the last decades of the eighteenth century, imposed a number of gradual changes in all walks of life and there was a general impression in America that enough of everything existed to benefit every living soul. Agricultural improvements led to an increase in the productions area with abundant food supplies. This was also substantiated by the emergence of new technologies and prolific organizational procedures. Nevertheless, historians have come to the realization that ?the progress in which we believe has been won at the expense of much injustice and wrong. (Toynbee 30) Further, it has been acknowledged that ?the historical method is supposed to prove that economic changes have been the inevitable outcome of natural laws. It just as often proves them to have been brought about by the self-seeking action of dominant class. (Toynbee 31) Indeed, this impact would in fact determine Peter Maurin later on to embrace voluntary poverty as a personal criticism to the consumerist society in which he lived.
The Industrial Revolution caused a massive migration and more people started moving from rural environments to the promising land of urbanism with anticipation of jobs and a better life. In just thirty five years, Manhattan grew to a number of half a million individuals from merely the initial hundred thousand and it soon became obvious that the city was not equipped to shelter so many people which is why new construction schemes came into place (Riis 7). The tenant house system proved a profitable business market while only providing the basic conditions for what was called a home. The space was compressed so as to maximize land use, whereas ventilation and sanitation were dismissed altogether while the poor population who inhabited the tenements was asked exorbitant prices. Historian Martha Lamb concluded that ?the city was a general asylum for vagrants, ? (as quoted in Riis 14) mostly referring to the young adults that rather preferred to roam the streets than to inhabit the tenements. By the end of the century, legislation had been passed requesting owners to ensure relevant repairs and ventilation techniques in tenant houses. Poor people were nevertheless struggling with multiple insufficiencies and a displacement was caused once outdoor relief was abolished. Dr. Thomas Norris reckoned that ?many families were obliged to break up, the parents or parent going to the poor-house, and the children to the asylums for care. (as quoted in Blau 13) The abolishment of outdoor relief implied that no medical assistance was granted to people who did not consigned themselves to institutions. Specifically in the 1980s, when homelessness was for the first time acknowledged as a serious prominent social concern, welfare hotels became the image of institutions that homeless people often dreaded. Because ?these hotels were nasty, dangerous places, [so] only women in extraordinarily difficult situations moved into them, and many moved out within a few weeks. (Jencks 104) Unfortunately, in years to come, as governmental positions looked merely at the practical side of homelessness, many homeless shelters would come to be associated with a threatening place to reside in and many people will once again prefer the street over the "home" conditions of the shelters.
The Great Depression led to the increase of homelessness as economy crumbled and "Hoovervilles" became a common term for what were shack towns and homeless settlements built throughout the U.S. By people who had lost their home having had no means to pay mortgages. The shacks appeared mostly on the outskirts of major cities the likes of Washington, New York, Seattle and, while some Hoovervilles were as small as to shelter some hundreds of people, others grew to reproduce a similar system to an actual town with a mayor being elected and churches being included. Nevertheless, despite public opinion rather tolerating the new assembles, by 1940 most of the Hoovervilles were torn down. It must be acknowledged that sanitation was at minimum level which posed serious health risks not only to the people living in the communities but as well to their more fortunate neighbors inside the cities. It is important to notice however that many individuals who inhabited these unconventional communities were war veterans who were forced along with their families to resort to desperate measures due to the failure of the Hoover administration to provide economic support. In times to come, more than often, it will be acknowledged that homelessness does not only appear in relation to men abusing substances or convicted felons but as well includes a large number of people otherwise regarded as valuable and productive members of the society.
It was indeed in this context of social concerns and under such circumstances of recurring and increasing cases of homelessness that Peter Maurin met with Dorothy Day in 1932 and established the Catholic Worker Movement. Maurin published Easy Essays, a compilation in verse that was meant not for private reading but to indeed instigate a pacifist revolution in counteracting the negative consequences of the modern industrialist world of which homeless people were the victims. Maurin believed that social workers are important components within the process of social integration and reintegration. His vision was that ?in Houses of Hospitality social workers can acquire that art of human contacts and that social-mindedness or understanding of social forces which will make them critical of the existing environment and the free creative agents of a new environment. (Maurin 75) In so thinking, Maurin actually anticipated what researchers and the government itself will eventually recognize in the 1980s as indeed a social problem: homelessness. He advocated that the government ?give to the people access to the millions of acres of vacant land held out of use by speculators and the burden on public relief funds would be quickly cut down at least one-half. If the principles behind the policy were fully applied it would altogether abolish unemployment. (Maurin 84) However, Maurin was all too aware of the implications of capitalism and that such decisions would hardly be implemented. While his propositions came in relation to the Catholic school of thought, one cannot deny that the same variables…[continue]
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