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Abstract

Although homelessness is not a new problem, the faces of the homeless are changing. For many, the term "homeless person" conjures up the image of a skid row alcoholic. However, the homeless now include unskilled middle-aged males, the chronically mentally ill, and families (Chaiklin, 1985). The reasons for the amplification of homelessness include unemployment, insufficient low-cost housing, alcohol and/or drug addiction, mental health deinstitutionalization and the inadequacy of community-based services. In addition, advocates for the homeless including Mitch Snyder (1986) and Jan Hagen (1986) have argued that federal and state welfare policy changes have served to shift potentially at-risk populations into homelessness. Hopper and Hamburg (1984) point out that one of the underlying causes of homelessness is the increase in the number of welfare recipients whose benefits were discontinued, while Koitz (1987) has shown that one of the reasons for homelessness is cutbacks in social spending. First, Roth and Durden (1988) emphasize that the crisis of homelessness has not been addressed completely on the federal, state, and local levels while Karger and Stoesz (1990) point out that homeless providers envision that in the future there will be minimal federal funding available to address the problems of homelessness.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the effect of one state's welfare policy changes on a segment of its General Assistance population which became homeless. It describes, from the perspective of the homeless, the impact of these changes. Topics that will be addressed include: 1) the homeless views of welfare reform, 2) means of survival after becoming homeless, 3) the effects of homelessness on relationships, 4) the alienation experienced by the homeless, 5) efforts of the homeless to find work and 6) levels of employability of the homeless. This study is significant since few researchers have undertaken an in-depth review of the consequences of limiting eligibility for individuals on welfare. The most recent federal welfare reform legislation, The Family Support Act of 1988, was meant to give the states flexibility in designing their employment, education, and training programs for welfare recipients. It may be that the current emphasis on work and employment in the Family Support Act needs to be re-examined in order to determine whether or not its objectives can be met as well as to assess its impact on large numbers of people. In view of this new federal legislation and its implications for state welfare reform policy, this article describes the experiences and survival methods of a segment of the welfare population which became homeless following the enactment of Pennsylvania's current welfare reform law, the Welfare Reform Act of 1982.

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