About 3.5 million US residents (about 1% of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time. Over 37,000 homeless individuals (including 16,000 children) stay in shelters in New York every night. This information was gathered by the Urban Institute, but actual numbers might be higher.
There is still no accurate information on the number of homeless people in the US. Several different models for the evaluation of the scale of homelessness exist. One approach measures the number of people without a roof over their head on a certain day or week. Another approach measures the number of the homeless over a certain period of time. The first method provides an “instant picture” of homelessness, but does little to differentiate between temporary and chronic homelessness. This method does not separate individuals who became homeless as a result of job loss, domestic abuse or housing shortage. The percent of chronic homelessness is overestimate in an “instant picture” approach.
The shortage of cheap housing and housing assistance programs are the main factors in the rising number of homeless in the US. Domestic abuse is another cause of homelessness. According to the Ford Foundation, about 50% of all homeless women and children were victims of physical or other abuse by their own family members. Another study, which surveyed 777 homeless parents (mainly mothers) living in 10 US cities showed that 22% of they respondents left their homes because of domestic abuse.
A study conducted in 2001 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 27 major cities showed that homeless shelters turned down 37% of individuals due to overcrowding. This number has increased 11% compared to the previous year, while the number of places available in homeless shelters changed insignificantly. Statistics for homeless families are even graver — 52% were turned down by homeless shelters, and increase of 22% since 2001. Experts believe that the number of homeless people is significantly higher than the number of places available in shelters. Furthermore, outside of major cities there are very few shelters, despite the high number of the homeless.
Thus, people who have no homes of their own are forced to seek temporary lodging with friends or relatives, constantly moving from one place to another. These individuals are generally not included in the statistics. According to the US Department of Education, only 35% of homeless children and youths lived in shelters. 34% were temporarily living with friends or relatives and 23% in cheap hotels. Very few of these people view themselves as homeless and choose to go to shelters or apply for assistance.
A nationwide survey conducted among Americans who have been homeless showed that a high number of basically homeless individuals slept in automobiles (59.2%) or sought temporary refuge in cardboard boxes, tents, caves or railcars (24.6%). Thus the number of homeless people might be significantly higher than indicated by official statistics.
Over 1 million children sleep on the streets or in homeless shelters every night. According to the 2001 study conducted in 27 major cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, one quarter of the homeless living in cities are under 18 years old. A study by the Urban Institute shows that, nationwide (including urban and rural regions) children make up 39% of the homeless. Adults between 31 and 50, however, make up the highest share of the homeless at 51%. Other studies (for example, performed by the Institute of Medicine) show the number of elderly homeless as varying between 2.5% and 19.4%. Single men become homeless most often (40% of the total), while single women make up 14%.
In the 1990s families with children were the fastest growing category of the homeless. Homeless families make up 38% of the homeless, according to the Homes For the Homeless organization. Since the amount of affordable housing is decreasing, families are forced to spend more time in shelters while looking for a permanent home. Thus, while an average family staying in a New York homeless shelter remained there for 5 months, today this period is up to a year.
About 40% of homeless men have served in the US armed forces. This is higher than the 34% of the overall male adult population that served in the military. Another study showed that 11% of the homeless in urban areas are veterans of wars and armed conflicts. Many homeless Americans (about 22%) have serious psychiatric disorders. (VG)