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Homeless in warm weather

STORIES about the homelessness in the United States have mostly melted off the front pages like old snow. An exception recently has been the coverage of the off-again, on-again plan to clear homeless men off the streets of Los Angeles by arresting them.

But the homeless still need help, and so it is heartening that legislation providing them with emergency aid is working its way through Congress.

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A conference committee has reconciled House and Senate versions of the bill; the compromise must go back to the respective houses for a vote, likely later this week or next. Actual appropriation of the aid is part of a bill that has also gone to conference.

Perhaps more important, this year may yet see the passage of a comprehensive housing bill.

There is supposed to be such a bill every year; in fact, during the Reagan years, such a bill has been passed only once, in 1983 - when a housing bill was attached to legislation the administration wanted. In the other years there has been a holding-pattern level of funding, but no policy legislation.

Homelessness is such a sticky problem because it is several issues at once, each needing a solution. Homelessness is an affordable-housing issue; it is also an employment issue, a mental-health care issue, an aspect of the domestic-violence issue, a veterans'-rights issue. It is sometimes even a street-beautification issue. Unfortunately each view has its own constituents, who tend to dismiss other aspects of the problem.

Still, housing is, to risk restating the obvious, pretty basic. The need for an innovative comprehensive national housing policy is as great today as in the immediate postwar period, when the GI Bill helped make homeowners of US veterans.

If any of the many presidential contenders want to attract attention and perform a public service as well, they could do worse than to come up with creative proposals for a national housing policy.

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