Spending a night at a typical big city shelter for the homeless has reminded the author of the massive and regimented environment in institutions that she had mistakenly believed no longer existed after the much acclaimed "deinstitutionalization" of America. St. Mary's is run by a religious order attempting to provide charitable care in a nondemanding environment. Many demands are made, however. The lack of privacy and respect for individuality inherent in institutional life tends to erode the "inmate's" very conception of self. It controls their activities, time, and choices, and thus creates barriers to exit. Providing "shelter" for the homeless just repeats the cycle of ephemeral reforms replete in America's previous approaches to controlling the poor. As a nation we should acknowledge that we are institutionalizing the poor again, as inefficiently and inhumanely as we ever have.

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