Homelessness in the United States Term Paper

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How many people are homeless?

The number of homeless is difficult to ascertain because estimates vary depending on the methodology used. Numbers also vary substantially depending on whether a measurement is taken on a single night or is extrapolated to a given year.

One approximation of the annual number of homeless in America is from a study done by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which estimates between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experience homelessness. According to a study released this month by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an estimated 744,313 people experienced homelessness in one night in January 2005. Some 56% of them were living in shelters and transitional housing and, 44% were unsheltered.

Which states have the most homelessness people?

Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State, and Washington, D.C. have the highest rates of homelessness, according to a study released in 2007 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

How many of the homeless are children?

In this year's National Alliance to End Homelessness study, 59% of homeless people counted were single adults and 41% were persons living in families. A total of 98,452 homeless families were counted.

Another estimate comes from 1996 data commissioned by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. It says that while most homeless are unaccompanied adults, the number of homeless families is growing:

66% are single adults, and of these, three-quarters are men

11% are parents with children, 84% of whom are single women

23% are children under 18 with a parent, 42% of whom are under 5 years of age

What is chronic homelessness?

According to the study previously noted, 23% of homeless people were reported as chronically homeless. According to HUD's definition, a person who is "chronically homeless" is an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition (e.g., substance abuse, serious mental illness, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness) who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. In order to be considered chronically homeless, a person must have been sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation and/or in an emergency homeless shelter.

What are the greatest causes of homelessness?

Homelessness may be caused by a variety of factors, but the coincidence of increased levels of poverty and decreased numbers of affordable housing often to blame. Other notable causes may include:

Lack of healthcare

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004 nearly a third of persons living in poverty had no health insurance of any kind. The coverage held by many others would not carry them through a catastrophic illness.

Domestic violence

In 2005, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.

Mental illness

Many mentally ill homeless people are unable to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. A 2005 U.S. Conference of Mayors study found that about 22% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness.

Substance Abuse

While recent research questions the disproportionately high rates of alcohol and drug abuse among the homeless population, and no agreed-upon statistics exist, poor people who abuse substances are far more likely to experience homelessness than their sober counterparts.

Are veterans more likely than other populations to be homeless?

Yes. About 40% of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 34% of the general adult male population. The National Coalition for Homeless estimates that on any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless.

What are some other demographics of homeless people?*

Racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African-Americans, are overrepresented

41% are non-Hispanic whites (compared to 76% of the general population)

40% are African-Americans (compared to 11% of the general population)

11% are Hispanic (compared to 9% of the general population)

8% are Native American (compared to 1% of the general population)

Homelessness continues to be a largely urban phenomenon:

71% are in central cities

21% are in suburbs

9% are in rural areas

People who are homeless frequently report health problems:

38% report alcohol use problems

26% report other drug use problems

39% report some form of mental health problems (20-25% meet criteria for serious mental illness)

66% report either substance use and/or mental health problems

3% report having HIV / AIDS

26% report acute health problems other than HIV / AIDS such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, or sexually transmitted diseases

46% report chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer

Figures based on 1996 data from Samhsha's National Mental Health Information Center.

What legislation exists that addresses homelessness?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was the first -- and remains the only -- major federal legislative response to homelessness. President Ronald Reagan signed the act into law in 1987.

Although the Act has undergone many changes since its inception, it resulted in several programs that have helped hundreds of thousands of Americans regain stability through emergency shelter, transitional housing, job training, primary health care, education, and some permanent housing. However, critics claim the greatest weakness of the Act is that it responds to the symptoms of homelessness more than its causes. (Homeless Facts, 2007)

Figure 2: Number of Homeless People in Each State (Homeless Facts, 2007)

Homelessness Portrayed

The following figure (1) portrays Manuel Hernandez in homeless encampment under a California freeway on November 10, 2007.

Figure 3: Manuel Hernandez (photo by Gary Kazanjian, Study, 2007)

The following figure shows a number of families with children sitting in a sidewalk in one of LA's skid row areas - waiting for the shelters to open.

Figure 4: Waiting for the Shelter to Open (Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino/Staff Photographer) in (Secret Homeless, 2008)

Cutout Children on May 11, 2007, during the morning hours, life-size cutouts of children pleading for help with domestic issues such as violence and homelessness were set up along sidewalks encircling the shopping district to highlight King County's growing number of homeless children. At last count, the number in this area totaled 800. Family Services, a non-profit agency hoped that after seeing the cutouts and the message, people passing by would their Web site to obtain information on how to help these children. ("Cutouts Left Out," 2007) the following two figures (4 & 5) represent two of the cutout children on display that day.

Figure 5: Life-size Cutout of Young Homeless Girl ("Cutouts Left Out," 2007)

Figure 6: Life-size Cutout of Young Homeless Boy ("Cutouts Left Out," 2007)

Andy Rogers, the photographer posting the portrayals of cutout children states that when he accepted the assignment, "I was expecting the cutouts to be much more abstract. Upon arriving downtown, I was a bit disconcerted to see what looked from a block away like small children standing by themselves on street corners." ("Cutouts Left Out," 2007) Stromberg (2006) cites Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, to purport that housing affordability, or perhaps, its un-affordability constitutes the primary driver for children being homeless. Issues with their age contribute to homelessness of children, as they are not old enough to sign a lease. (Stromberg, 2006)

NATIONAL LAW CENTER on HOMELESSNESS & POVERTY (2003) Determining Homelessness by the Definition

Experience has shown that, despite its specificity, the McKinney-Vento Act's definition of homelessness leaves us with some gray areas. State Coordinators, liaisons and others need a process to resolve those gray areas. This document suggests some potential elements of such a process.

The McKinney-Vento Act's definition of "homeless children and youths" provides the following general framework: individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The law then lists several situations which fit within that framework. This list is not exclusive; rather, it is meant to address some of the more common situations of homelessness. Migrant children who are living in one of the described situations are also considered homeless under the Act.

It cannot be emphasized enough that determining whether a particular child or youth fits the definition of homeless is a case-specific inquiry. General answers based on incomplete information or hypothetical situations will often be legally incorrect.


Is the child or youth covered by subparagraph (B)(i) of the definition?

Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason;

Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations;

Living in emergency or transitional shelters;

Abandoned in hospitals; or Awaiting foster care placement.

If yes, apply the McKinney-Vento Act.

If no, go to Step 2.

If unclear, see if Step 4 can help, and/or seek advice from your attorney, the U.S. Department of Education, your peers, or other appropriate individuals.

To further define "awaiting foster care placement," collaborate with child welfare officials, attorneys and other community members to establish guidelines.


Is the child or youth covered by subparagraph (B)(ii) of…

Sources Used in Document:



Aviles, a., & Helfrich, C. (2004). Life Skill Service Needs: Perspectives of Homeless Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33(4), 331+. Retrieved March 6, 2008, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5006614572

Bartlett, John, comp. (2000). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed, rev. And enl. By Nathan Haskell Dole. Boston: Little, Brown, 1919; Bartleby.com. Retrieved March 6, 2008, from www.bartleby.com/100/


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