Federal Responses to Homelessness the 1930s and Today

Posted on October 18, 2012 by Paul Boden

by Art Hazelwood.

Among the new agencies created in the first 100 days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933 was the Federal Transient Services (FTS) that established transient service centers in cities and rural areas throughout the country. The FTS was the first time the federal government created a program for homeless people. It made federal grants available to local communities to open shelters, operate food kitchens, and extend other services to homeless people. Several innovative programs opened around the country, some including educational programs, and libraries. At its height, the FTS was serving close to half a million people. But the agency never had strong political support and was phased out in late 1935.
It was assumed that other New Deal work programs like the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps would take over in providing the support needed for those served by the FTS.


Other New Deal programs did address different aspects of poverty. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), commonly known as Welfare, addressed poverty in children by providing financial aid through the states for children whose parents were disabled, absent, deceased or unemployed. The Social Security act of 1935 established an old-age pension to reduce the suffering of older Americans. Rural poverty programs sought to build up infrastructure and resettle farmers onto more productive land or help them with loans to be able to stay on their land. The Farm Security Administration and its predecessor, the Resettlement Administration, operated ninety-five farm labor camps that gave migrants clean water and safety and stood in bright contrast to the Hoovervilles. Unfortunately, the 75,000 people who used these camps were a small fraction of the 2.5 million displaced out of the Dust Bowl states of the Midwest.

Since the 1980s American presidents have steadily eroded the gains made by poor people and workers in the Great Depression. The Clinton administration joined the fray in the 1990s by destroying the New Deal program Aid for Families with Dependent Children and replacing it with temporary aid to needy families as part of his “Welfare Reform”.

Jane “In Vain” Winkelman experienced homelessness in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. In her painting from this period, “The New Drop Dead Welfare Center” Winkelman offers a glimpse of what she felt was the real intention of Clinton era Welfare Reform––to do away with all poor people. Sadly, Jane passed away earlier this year.

Excerpted from Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present, published by Freedom Voices and available from WRAP.

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