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Metzenbaum Says Homeless Deserve Same Help As Hurricane Victims

September 29, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation’s 3 million homeless deserve the same kind of quick attention that Congress and President Bush gave the victims of Hurricane Hugo this week, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum said Friday.

″It upsets me that with no fanfare we were able to find $1.1 billion for those who have been affected by the hurricane in South Carolina, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,″ Metzenbaum said. ″I really have no quarrel about that. If that’s the amount needed to help those people, that’s fine.

″But I also have to say if we can find $1.1 billion with hardly a peep from anybody, we can certainly find the funding to help the 3 million homeless in this country.″

Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, made the remarks at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, which was called to explore the homeless issue.

Metzenbaum and Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., were the only two senators to attend the hearing, which focused on the need for affordable housing. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would provide 140,000 units of federally supported housing for the homeless every two years.

Witnesses included a 37-year-old District of Columbia man with AIDS who now works on a project to help drug abusers who test positive for the virus.

″Even though I have AIDS, I should be able to die with dignity and self respect,″ said the man, Scott Crohn. ″I should have a roof over my head.″

Like many witnesses, he said the homeless need medical and social services as well as shelter.

Judith Johnson, head of a group called The Green Door, said that mentally ill people who are released from institutions don’t have to join the ranks of the homeless.

Although the national rate of reinstitutionalization is 50 percent for people who are released, the rate is 9 percent for people in Green Door, based in Washington, Johnson said.

″We are the safety net,″ she said, adding that the cost of care through Green Door is no more than $8,000 a person compared with $85,000 at St. Elizabeths, another mental health facility in Washington.

Deinstitutionalization has been repeatedly cited as one of the causes of homelessness. But other witnesses said that for a growing number of Americans who are homeless, the cause is simpler - poverty.

″The fact that families have gotten much poorer over the last 10 years and affordable housing has gotten much scarcer has to be at the top of our attention list,″ said Lisa Mihaly of the Washington-based Children’s Defense Fund.

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