U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Community Planning and Development
There are few economic indicators as grim as homelessness, as the Department of Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrates in its 4th annual report on the topic, which found that some 1.6 million Americans stayed at homeless shelters from October 2007 to September 2008. The Department also noticed some troubling trends: more families seeking shelter particularly in rural and suburban areas and more people going to shelters from stable living arrangements (instead of jails, institutional settings or the military).
1. On the demographics of American homelessness: "The most common demographic features of all sheltered homeless people are: male, members of minority groups, older than 31, and alone. More than two-fifths of sheltered homeless people have a disability. This demographic profile is likely to agree with commonly held perceptions about who is homeless in the United States. But while accurate, these perceptions should not overlook sizeable segments of the sheltered homeless population that are white, non-Hispanic (38%), children (20%), [or] homeless together with at least one other person (33%)."
2. On why nearly half of all homeless Americans are middle-aged: "If people have struggled for awhile because of mental health, substance abuse or financial issues, by age 30 or older they may have exhausted their alternatives for living with friends and family. The shelter system may be their last remaining option."
3. On the uneven distribution of homelessness: "More than half of all homeless people on a single night in January 2008 were found in just five states: California (157,277), New York (61,125), Florida (50,158), Texas (40,190) and Michigan (28,248). Their share is disproportionate, as these states constitute only 36% of the total U.S. population. Mississippi, South Dakota, and Kansas had the nation's lowest concentration of homeless persons ... In both 2007 and 2008, one in five people homeless on a single night in January were in Los Angeles, New York, or Detroit."
The Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn't really know what's in store for America's already overburdened homeless shelters. In its assessment to lawmakers, the agency known as HUD included this caveat: Our info is pretty outdated. "The data collection period ended on Sept. 30, 2008, just as the [economic] crisis was accelerating," the authors noted. "Also, there is an expected time delay between the moment someone loses her job or home and the moment she enters the shelter system." While the agency plans to begin issuing quarterly "pulse reports" to keep pace with the issue, counting people who have fallen through society's cracks is no easy task. The Obama Administration's $787 billion economic-stimulus package allots $1.2 billion for combating homelessness, but without a full understanding of the problem's scope and with the unemployment rate creeping toward double digits the struggle to contain it will continue.
The Verdict: Toss