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Overview


How widespread is homelessness, how did it happen, and what can be done about it? These are the questions explored by Christopher Jencks, America's foremost analyst of social problems. Jencks examines the standard explanations and finds that the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, the invention of crack cocaine, rising joblessness among men, declining marriage rates, cuts in welfare benefits, and the destruction of skid row have all played a role. Changes in the housing market have had less impact than many claim, however, and real federal housing subsidies actually doubled during the 1980s. Not confining his mission to studying the homeless, Jencks proposes several practical approaches to helping the homeless.

Late in the 1970s, Americans began to notice more people sleeping in public places and wandering the streets. By the late 1980s, the homeless were everywhere--a grim reminder of America's social and economic troubles. Renowned social analyst Jencks discusses the causes and extent of this problem and what can be done about it. Line illustrations and tables.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

Jencks is a savvy and clear-thinking policy analyst...An honest and illuminating portrait of homelessness in America...[A] superb book.
— Douglas J. Besharov

The Economist
Because homelessness has become so politicised, its possible causes and cures the battleground of lobbies, the true nature of the problem has been lost in an ideological blur. This readable and relentlessly logical book...successfully strips away the dogma.
New York Magazine

How is it that a 57-year-old sociology professor can transcend hyped-up numbers, ideological cant, and government obfuscation to tell us roughly how many homeless there are and where they come from? Our biggest and best news organizations have been unable to perform this simple task for nearly fifteen years.
— Jon Katz

Boston Sunday Globe

Much of this concise text is taken up evaluating the validity of claims made by liberals and conservatives as to the causes of the '80s homelessness epidemic...No previous work, to my knowledge, has tried so assiduously to winnow fact from rhetoric in so many complex policy realms.
— Kathleen Hirsch

Newsday

Clear, unclouded by political preconceptions and rigorously logical, Jencks takes a much needed fresh look at debates that generally yield more heat than light...By the end of the book, even readers who disagree with his conclusions will feel thoroughly educated about one of America's most pressing social problems.
— Philip Kasinitz

Wall Street Journal

Jencks...subjects the various explanations of homelessness to rigorous analysis. Much conventional wisdom withers under his scrutiny...Jencks's thinking is guided by a zeal for the truth that has been sadly lacking in homelessness policy over the past decade.
— Heather MacDonald

New York Times Book Review

In his new book, Christopher Jencks sets out to bring clarity and sense to the public debate. He systematically reviews and evaluates a large body of research literature on the homeless and, in less than 200 pages of tersely written and tightly argued text, he deftly leads the reader through a maze of assertions...He writes lucidly and compellingly and, what is more, he does not pull his punches...The Homeless is undoubtedly a major achievement...[Jencks'] findings defy not only the wisdom of the average sidewalk sociologist, but also the arguments of many established researchers...The Homeless, with its challenging findings, is a bold book...Mr. Jencks, with his masterly exposition of complex data and his discriminating, well-balanced assessments, goes a long way toward restoring confidence in the capacity of the social sciences to transcend politically loaded policy analysis. He also goes a long way toward restoring a modicum of realism to public debate.
— Brigitte Berger

Booklist

A thoughtful analysis of homelessness...Jencks' concessions to political realities will make his study controversial.
— Mary Carroll

Washington Post Book World - Douglas J. Besharov
Jencks is a savvy and clear-thinking policy analyst...An honest and illuminating portrait of homelessness in America...[A] superb book.
New York Magazine - Jon Katz
How is it that a 57-year-old sociology professor can transcend hyped-up numbers, ideological cant, and government obfuscation to tell us roughly how many homeless there are and where they come from? Our biggest and best news organizations have been unable to perform this simple task for nearly fifteen years.
Boston Sunday Globe - Kathleen Hirsch
Much of this concise text is taken up evaluating the validity of claims made by liberals and conservatives as to the causes of the '80s homelessness epidemic...No previous work, to my knowledge, has tried so assiduously to winnow fact from rhetoric in so many complex policy realms.
Newsday - Philip Kasinitz
Clear, unclouded by political preconceptions and rigorously logical, Jencks takes a much needed fresh look at debates that generally yield more heat than light...By the end of the book, even readers who disagree with his conclusions will feel thoroughly educated about one of America's most pressing social problems.
Wall Street Journal - Heather Macdonald
Jencks...subjects the various explanations of homelessness to rigorous analysis. Much conventional wisdom withers under his scrutiny...Jencks's thinking is guided by a zeal for the truth that has been sadly lacking in homelessness policy over the past decade.
New York Times Book Review - Brigitte Berger
In his new book, Christopher Jencks sets out to bring clarity and sense to the public debate. He systematically reviews and evaluates a large body of research literature on the homeless and, in less than 200 pages of tersely written and tightly argued text, he deftly leads the reader through a maze of assertions...He writes lucidly and compellingly and, what is more, he does not pull his punches...The Homeless is undoubtedly a major achievement...[Jencks'] findings defy not only the wisdom of the average sidewalk sociologist, but also the arguments of many established researchers...The Homeless, with its challenging findings, is a bold book...Mr. Jencks, with his masterly exposition of complex data and his discriminating, well-balanced assessments, goes a long way toward restoring confidence in the capacity of the social sciences to transcend politically loaded policy analysis. He also goes a long way toward restoring a modicum of realism to public debate.
Booklist - Mary Carroll
A thoughtful analysis of homelessness...Jencks' concessions to political realities will make his study controversial.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Noted sociologist Jencks ( Rethinking Social Policy ), who teaches at Northwestern University, here offers a brief but instructive survey and analysis of much literature on the homeless. Concentrating on the ``visible homeless'' (street people and those using shelters), Jencks agrees that their numbers have risen but also notes that his estimate of 400,000 homeless in 1987-1988 is disputed by many advocacy groups as far too low. He attributes the proliferation of mentally ill homeless people both to liberal policies boosting individual autonomy and to conservative policies that cut mental health budgets. He suggests that the ``cumulative effect'' of having been born disadvantaged, not merely bad luck, leads to the streets. He blames crack and deinstitutionalization for fueling homelessness among individuals and cites skimpy welfare payments, the growth of single motherhood and crack addiction (again) as leading to homeless families. He recommends certain admittedly stopgap measures: increased welfare payments or subsidized housing for families; a day-labor market supported by government and private sources for working adults; and social services and intervention for the mentally ill. (May)
Booknews
Addressing the explosive increase in homelessness in America (fourfold in the last 15 years), noted social analyst Jencks, author of Rethinking Social Policy, examines the explanations for this devolution in social welfare, and proposes several practical approaches that might be of benefit. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674405967
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Jencks is John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Urban Affairs at Northwestern University.
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Table of Contents

The Numbers
1 Counting the Homeless 1
2 Estimating the Increase 8
Promising Explanations
3 Empowering the Back Wards 21
4 The Crack Epidemic 41
5 Jobs and Marriage 49
6 The Destruction of Skid Row 61
Less-Promising Explanations
7 Social Skills and Family Ties 75
8 Changes in the Housing Market 81
9 Budget Cuts and Rent Control 94
Reversing the Trend
10 Do Shelters Cause Homelessness? 103
11 Some Partial Solutions 107
Appendix 1: Derivation of Tables 1 and 2 125
Appendix 2: Supplementary Tables 138
Notes 143
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