Address the root causes of homelessness in America

As a former poverty researcher who exerted considerable energy toward advancing our understanding of homelessness, I was dismayed by Gerry Roll's reflections on the challenge of counting the homeless in her May 22 Opinion piece, "How needy families get excluded from assistance programs."

The debate about precisely how to count the homeless has been ongoing for more than 30 years. Advocates for the homeless believe that any efforts to determine hard numbers of homeless will be gross underestimates, and they fight to expand the definition of the term. Government seems to believe that homeless population estimates are overstated because the definition of the term is too broad. But what is more important than numbering the homeless is addressing two root causes of homelessness - domestic violence and lack of decent, affordable housing.

Nearly all homeless women, who make up about half the total homeless population, are victims of domestic violence, and when these women leave their abusers and seek shelter, they and their children are propelled into an endless collision course with the limited mercies of the social welfare and legal systems. Further, between one-quarter and one-third of all homelessness is a consequence of eviction for failure to pay rent.

Once tougher laws against domestic violence are in place and enforced, and once building affordable housing becomes more profitable and workers can earn a living wage, homelessness will largely resolve itself.
Paula V.W. Dáil
Mineral Point, Wis.

Prayer more important than how it's done

Regarding the May 16 article, "Tackling Iraq's Sunni-Shiite divide - in one home": When I read of the Sunni prayer style (praying with hands clasped) and the Shiite prayer style (praying with hands hung loosely at your side), I couldn't help but flash back to my 13 years as a nun with the Missionary of Charity (Mother Teresa's religious order).

A group of sisters argued with one another as to whether we should stand or kneel during the "Prayer of the Angels." We decided to wait for Mother Teresa's visit to observe what she would do. The first day of her visit, she stood during the prayer; the second day, she knelt. We then approached her about the discrepancy we observed and asked the question, "Should we stand or kneel during the "Prayer of the Angels?' " Mother Teresa's answer: "You should be praying it!" May we all, no matter what religion or sect, be sure that "praying" is our ultimate goal.
Sue Weber
Taylorsville, Calif.

Vouchers and quality schools

Regarding the May 23 article, "Milwaukee's lessons on school vouchers": Parents have the absolute right to send their children to any school they want. But that sacrosanct option is not a guarantee of better educational quality. What Milwaukee's experience demonstrates is that ideology trumps evidence. Voucher schools in Milwaukee are uncannily like regular schools there. Moreover, parents often choose schools based on logistical and holistic - rather than academic - grounds.

When historians look back at the nation's oldest and largest voucher program, they'll conclude that the social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the parents involved, and the communities in which schools were located, constituted the principal determinant of success. Until then, however, the matter will continue to polarize opinion.
Walt Gardner
Los Angeles

Mr. Gardner taught for 28 years in Los Angeles and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.

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