View Full Version : Ten Surprising Facts about the Homeless in the US

07-24-07, 03:26 PM
Soup Line – Newark, New Jersey – 2007
http://www.itulip.com/images/newarknjsoupline.jpgToday we take a break from our usual comments on the economy and markets. We are seeing a lot of mixed signals in the data about the state and direction of the US economy, but there is one area of the US economy where the data are unambiguous: homelessness and hunger.

Below we list ten surprising facts about homelessness from the results of the most recent U.S. Conference of Mayors/Sodexho Survey on Hunger and Homelessness (pdf) (http://www.usmayors.org/uscm/hungersurvey/2005/HH2005FINAL.pdf), a survey of America's 24 largest cities.

You might assume that mental illness is the number one cause of homelessness, that few homeless seeking food assistance are employed, and that most seeking food assistance are individuals and not families. You might assume that a nation that spends 21 billion dollars a month on a war in Iraq spends more than $420 million per year to assist its homeless, 11 percent of whom are veterans, so that few if any homeless requesting assistance are turned away. And you might think, with all the news you read about the strong and growing US economy, that homelessness is declining.

But you'd be wrong.

Ten Surprising Facts about Homelessness in the US

1) Homeless People

It is estimated that persons considered mentally ill account for 22 percent of the homeless population in the survey cities; substance abusers account for 30 percent. Fifteen percent of the homeless in the survey cities are employed in full-or part-time jobs. Eleven percent are veterans.

2) Causes of Homelessness

Listed in order of frequency: lack of affordable housing, low paying jobs, mental illness and the lack of needed services, substance abuse and the lack of needed services, domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, and prisoner re-entry.

3) Length of Time People Are Homeless

People remain homeless for an average of 7 months in the survey cities. The average length of time people remain homeless is 24 months in Phoenix, 18 months in Louisville, 14 months in Boston, 12 months in Detroit. Eighty-seven percent of the cities report that the length of time people are homeless increased. Thirteen percent report a decrease.

4) People Requesting Food Assistance

Officials in the survey cities reported that 40 percent of adults requesting emergency food assistance were employed. Across the survey cities it is estimated that 54 percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were either children or their parents.

http://www.itulip.com/images/homeless.gif5) Emergency Shelter Requests

Seventy-one percent of the survey cities report an increase in request for emergency shelter during the last year. Across the survey cities, the average increase was 6 percent. The increases ranged from 30 percent in Los Angeles, 28 percent in Trenton, 22 percent in Detroit, and 18 percent in Miami.

6) Emergency Shelter Requests by Families

Requests for emergency shelter by homeless families with children increased in 63 percent of the survey cities during the last year. Across the survey cities, the average increase in requests for emergency shelter by homeless families with children was 5 percent.

7) Requests for Assisted Housing by Low-Income Families and Individuals

During the last year, requests for housing by low-income families and individuals increased in 86 percent of the survey cities.

8) People Turned Away From Emergency Shelter

In 88 percent of the survey cities, emergency shelters may have turned away homeless families due to a lack of resources.

9) Forecast of Requests for Emergency Shelter during 2006

Ninety-three percent of the survey cities expect that requests for emergency shelter to increase in 2006. Ninety-five percent of the survey cities expect that requests for shelter by families to increase in 2006.

10) Requests for Emergency Food Assistance for 2006

Ninety percent of the survey cities expect that their requests for emergency food assistance will increase in 2006. During 2006 requests for emergency food assistance by families with children are expected to increase in 86 percent of the survey cities.

This report came out a year before the Center for Responsible Lending (http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthread.php?t=723) projected millions of homes may go into foreclosure over the next few years, as "2.2 million mortgage loans with a value of $164B to eventually fail."

While we worry about the stock market, bond yields, and the price of commodities, it's important to remind ourselves occasionally that while economic mismanagement may cause many of us to lose money, millions of our fellow citizens stand to lose a lot more than that.

07-24-07, 04:46 PM
Bought me down to Earth EJ, Like Phill Colins sang "Just another day for you & me......

07-24-07, 11:13 PM
Meanwhile, Nero tunes his fiddle...

I think the housing bubble caused a lot of collateral damage while it was booming and everyone was throwing themselves a HELOC party. I won't shed any tears when speculators and overextended, arrogant home "owners" get foreclosed on and thrown out on the street.

The smug comments we used to get at family gatherings about "throwing our money away on rent" were hard enough to put up with. But that's not the worst of it.

It's amazing how many working families with kids I see sleeping in tents. If you ask them, many will tell you they were thrown out of their rentals because greedheads converted them all to condos, and drove rents into the stratosphere.

07-25-07, 04:28 AM
Interesting report.

There is a factoid or two I would throw into this, and that is that in Los Angeles (I know some people that work with the homeless), to receive services and to get shelter there is a requirement that individuals not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is for the safety of the other homeless in shelters and for the state workers, among other reasons, and there is a conscious choice of many people to be homeless and drunk than sheltered and sober. There are also people out there that choose to be homeless. There are estimates that a homeless person in LA can clear 40k a year panhandling - tax free mind you. And our weather here is not so extreme, you can easily sleep and live outside year-round, if you wished to live that lifestyle. Amongst the homeless I see around me (walked by an older guy on my way to the mailbox an hour ago), many seem to be mentally ill and/or drunk and high. If they had the motivation to get off the street, they have the opportunity. But to really thrive? Hah, not in this city anyway.

My guess is that increases in homelessness will come from faltering economy in combination with foreclosures and increases in rents and housing prices.

07-25-07, 12:12 PM
Amongst the homeless I see around me (walked by an older guy on my way to the mailbox an hour ago), many seem to be mentally ill and/or drunk and high.

It seems that homeless people with "issues", be it psychological or chemically induced, are more visible out on the streets, at least in the cities I've lived in/visited. The others, the working families, the single mothers, etc., while perhaps statistically greater numbers, seem to be out of sight, out of mind. I suppose they are more likely to be in various shelters rather than out on the street begging for change. Unfortunately this skews our perception of who these people are and how they ended up where they are.

07-25-07, 10:29 PM
The most heartbreaking thing I've seen in a long time was on a trip to San Francisco a year ago - while staying at a hotel right near the entrance to the Bay Bridge near the Moscone Center - my first evening there I saw a young woman, dressed just like a secretary just leaving a corporate office - who was carefully folding some decent clothes into a beat up suitcase. A sleeping bag was neatly rolled out on some cardboard. The extreme tidiness of the scene spoke more about her silent distress than she could have in an hour of explanations.

No relative to call, no friend to stay with, no city agency stepping in to catch her when she fell.

You see something like that and you are completely depressed for the rest of the day. San Franciscans hurried by, all seeming more frightened than concerned.

I'm from New York City, where it can be pretty ugly on the streets - but I never saw so many homeless as in San Francisco.

A good number of them in SF did not at all give me the impression they lacked the initiative to get off the street - and DemonD, (please understand I'm contributing a comment in friendship here) I have to note that I did not see any hopeful or crafty glint in their eyes that they were secretly pulling down 40K a year panhandling. If you are making that kind of money panhandling you don't have a pasty complexion and sagging skin from erratic meals, or have a look in your eyes like a frightened rabbit.

07-26-07, 02:12 AM
luke, 40k/year buys you a healthy supply of beer, meth, heroin, crack, or what have you along with food. Very easy to blow 40k in a big city if you are an addict. Indeed, SF is the most disheartening place I have ever been, for many reasons but the homeless is one.

Zoog: I have a feeling you are right on the money. For that silent majority of homeless, I do believe that we as a society owe it to them to give them enough of a hand to lift them up out of the gutter as much as possible.

07-28-07, 05:23 PM
Oh, come now.

Why are people homeless?

Lack of affordable housing.

1. Could it be that we have burdened the housing process with so much bureaucracy, so many permits and taxes, that it is not profitable for builders to build apartment buildings that have affordable rents?

2. Could it also be the housing bubble has raised property values because of government intervention causing overly cheap credit? And that this bubble results in a lack of incentives to build or manage low cost housing?

Low paying jobs
3. Could it be that exporting fiat currency has resulted in consumer goods being made in other countries and imported into the US, exporting higher paying jobs in the process? After all, with commodity money, we couldn't continually export intrinsically worthless "money" in return for consumer goods, so the goods would have to be made in the US.

4. Could it be that the government pays people not to work and not to be productive?

I don't buy the "we as a society don't care" reason for homeless that seems so often espoused.

What's interesting is that there are more homeless in cities that do "care the most" -- San Francisco for instance. Washington DC.

The reasons for this should be obvious if you really analyze it. Nobody owns "public property" so some places tolerate people camping out, building fires, sleeping, etc. on their "public" property. In cities that don't tolerate this, there are few/no homeless people. Is it really that simple?

Could we get rid of homeless people simply by enforcing vagrancy statutes? Probably they would go a long way. I am not advocating this because I am a believer in addressing the underlying causes.

07-28-07, 05:55 PM
Could we get rid of homeless people simply by enforcing vagrancy statutes? Probably they would go a long way.

All that does is to give the homeless a "home" -- namely prison.

From US Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective (http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/2006nov_factsheet_incarceration.pdf)

In the past 30 years, the United States has come to rely on imprisonment as its response to all types of crime. Even minor violations of parole or probation often lead to a return to prison. This has created a prison system of unprecedented size in this country.

The US incarcerates the largest number of people in the world.

The incarceration rate in the US is four times the world average.

Some individual US states imprison up to six times as many people as do
nations of comparable population.

The US imprisons the most women in the world.

Crime rates do not account for incarceration rates.

From "US Addiction to Incarceration Puts 2.3 Million in Prison"

For years, the United States has held the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people and at a higher rate than any other peacetime nation in the world. Yet its appalling addiction to incarceration continues. According to statistics released today by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (Prisoners in 2005), the number of US residents behind bars has now reached more than 2.3 million. The rate of incarceration has risen to 491 sentenced inmates per 100,000 US residents, up from 411 a decade ago. Four states - Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma - have incarceration rates of more than 650 per 100,000, with Louisiana soaring above all other states with the astonishing rate of 797.

With violent crime rates continuing their decades-long decline, the United States should be able to reduce its prison population. But the still-growing number of men and women behind bars attests to criminal justice policies - including mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws, and reduced options for parole - that favor incarceration over alternative sanctions, even for low-level and nonviolent crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data, 53 percent of all state and federal prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. Indeed, an estimated 337,872 men and women are serving state or federal prison sentences because of drug convictions, most of whom are low-level offenders.

07-28-07, 07:56 PM
All that does is to give the homeless a "home" -- namely prison.

Conversely, if we did not have so many people in prison already, we'd have to raise the official unemployment rate.

Using McKinsey’s approach and unofficial definitions of the “unemployed,” CEPR’s report (http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1204&Itemid=8) calculated that the U.S. unemployment rate for the same year would be 13.8 percent (more than double the official rate of 5.5 percent). If the U.S. prison and jail populations are also included, something that McKinsey did not do in their original study of Sweden, the U.S. unemployment rate would rise to 15.2 percent.

07-28-07, 08:54 PM
Somehow I think you and I are both on the same page! ;)

07-29-07, 09:58 AM
excellent point.