Dehavenon speaks with an EAU employee, right.
"We're supposed to be a civilized society. There are certain living standards that most of us take for granted, but these 20 years of documenting the causes and conditions of hunger and homelesness show that we don't always live up to them."
Dehavenon believes that the notion of a "permanent underclass" as a group defined by personal or moral weakness can be refuted by empirical research. "For some time, we have accepted the myth that families stay on welfare for consecutive generations Good research has shown that while some leave and come back when they can't pay for food or rent, others leave and don't come back. Welfare statistics do not represent the histories of individual families over time, and there's more movement of these families off welfare than we give them credit for."

On the verge of losing hope

"When we first documented hunger conditions," Dehavenon recalls, "the whole country was up in arms. In 1979 people couldn't believe that there was hunger anywhere in the U.S. The media ate it up." Over the years the response has become more tepid, and recently almost nonexistent, matching the political tenor of the times.

"Today, when I am with friends whose lives never touch these conditions, I only talk about my work when they ask. It's become increasingly wearing to confront the lack of information about the causes of U.S. poverty, of which hunger and homelessness are only two of the symptoms." What happened to people? Some people are making lots of money, Dehavenon says, and the gap between the very rich and very poor has become much greater recently. "I don't believe most people are insensitive; it's just that our social lives are so segregated. In the areas where they live and work, most middle and upper middle class families only see the occasional single homeless person who's sleeping on a park bench or huddled in the corner of a church entrance. Homeless families, wary of the threat of having their children taken into foster care, keep them off the streets." In New York City, Dehavenon says even the single homeless are less evident because Giuliani has forced them into poor neighborhoods, far away from the more genteel areas. So poverty is kept invisible: out of sight, out of mind.

In 1984 a foundation that later funded her research asked Dehavenon how long she thought these conditions would last. Her response was and still is, "I see nothing on the horizon that suggests when they will be over. There will have to be massive shifts in our political priorities."

As a result, Dehavenon's balance between advocacy and scholarship has tilted slightly in her last report. "I felt it was time to speak out more. Here is 20 years of seeing what's going on here. It's not only not gotten better, it's gotten worse. Actually it's more cruel, and more punitive, than it ever was before."

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