The correlates of homelessness in New Jersey, 1980–2000
Public administrators are called upon to respond to and manage emerging social problems with limited knowledge of the causes and magnitude of the conditions. Responses are developed in context and this context is often ambiguous. This research examines the dimensions of homelessness in New Jersey which presented a burgeoning social crisis in the early 1980's in order to illustrate a broader issue in public administration where, amidst a barrage of media attention and public pressure, the government can be mandated to ameliorate situations which are ill-defined.
This research is a descriptive study of the contextual frame within which homelessness evolved and was addressed by government officials. Social welfare policies in the United States have been characterized by conflict between those who believe that individual-level pathologies cause social problems and those who emphasize deficiencies or disruptions in social, political or economic systems. These conflicting interpretations also shape the approach to homelessness, how the phenomenon being addressed is defined, how its causes, dimensions, dynamics and consequences are conceptualized, what type of information is collected or mapped, and which interventions or solutions are considered viable.
The purpose of this study is to explore the utility for administrative decision making of a well-grounded model to interpret, track, predict and make credible decisions about an emerging social problem, in this case, homelessness. The challenge is to capture the ambiguities intrinsic to its historical background and the multiple and often conflicting approaches to its causes, dimensions and impacts. Causal theories and one economic model are tested for correlates of homelessness using data in the public domain.
The findings reveal indicators which strongly correlate to homelessness. These indicators are tracked, and sometimes generated, by public administrators. This study highlights the problems using this data. These problems in analysis could be lessened by government leadership in the use of standardized definitions and methodology. The conclusion is that a systematic approach is both feasible and can assist public administration in policy decision making. Public administration can effectively interpret, track and address complex public issues despite ambiguities surrounding their interpretation.
0511: Economic theory