Versailles vs Paris
There always have been poor here, living in sharp contrast to the well-to-do political world of the city. But the homeless, during DC's recent history, appeared with Reagan's inauguration in 1981. They are testament to the first wave of conservative cuts in social welfare programmes, which, among other things, resulted in Reagan's famed "welfare queens'', along with the supposed malingerers who turned out to be mentally ill, being forced onto the street.
Administrations have come and gone but the homeless have become a permanent fixture in the city's life – a reminder that the conservative era launched by Reagan has little in common with Roosevelt's New Deal. There are now some 16,000 people who live on the streets of Washington in any one year, with at least 1,000 families among them. This city of 600,000, which considers itself progressive, young and hip, and where whites have now replaced blacks as a majority of the city's inhabitants, has sought to help homeless people with shelters, social programmes and housing. But there is not enough low-cost housing to make a serious dent.
Now, the new mayor, Vincent Gray, like officials elsewhere in the nation, has been faced with the hard choice of either increasing taxes or cutting the municipal budget. And as elsewhere, he has chosen to cut – and those cuts come down on the poor. Gray projects a need to pare $322m from the city's budget. That leaves a shortfall of $20.5m for homeless services in fiscal year 2012.