Are you or someone you know in danger of being evicted from your apartment or home? Or perhaps, you have already been evicted and are currently homeless and do not know where to go for help. The Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) helps to assure that homelessness can be avoided, people who are homeless can find refuge and care and homeless and near homeless clients are assisted in moving toward self-sufficiency.
Homeless Assistance Program Services Available: Case Management: This service is designed to assist you in identifying your needs and the reasons why you became homeless or near homeless. The focus of Case Management is to provide you with the tools and skills that you need to prevent you from ever being in a homeless situation again. The many services include budgeting, life skills, job preparation, home management and referral to drug and alcohol services, if necessary.
Rental Assistance: If you are in danger of being evicted from your apartment or home, your county may be able to assist you with payments for rent, mortgage, security deposits and utilities. Your county HAP provider will work hard with your landlord to maximize your chances for staying in your apartment or home, or work with you to find a more affordable apartment. HAP can also be used to move you out of shelter into an affordable apartment.
Bridge Housing: This is "The Bridge" that will move you from being homeless into permanent housing. This is usually the next step up from an emergency shelter. This service will allow you to stay in a shared facility or apartment for up to 18 months for a small co-pay depending on your income and you will continue to receive case management services to assist you with your goal in living in your own home or apartment.
Emergency Shelter: If you are currently homeless and have no permanent residence or are a victim of domestic violence, the Emergency Shelter component provides you with shelter, for a short period of time. During that time, you will be provided with case management services to assist you with securing more permanent housing.
Innovative Supportive Housing Service: This component enables the service provider to design a supportive housing service for homeless and near homeless persons that is outside the scope of existing HAP components and addresses unique county needs.Income Guidelines:
The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize the nonprofit, public and private sectors of society in an alliance to end homelessness. This site has an extensive selection of referral links to help you if you are homeless and puts you in touch with providers who can assist you.
The National Coalition for the Homeless is one of America’s top 100 charities and has a section on their Web site that gives you step-by-step instructions on what to do if you are facing homelessness.
Homeless Programs & Initiatives + Why Are People Homeless? Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Below is an overview of current poverty and housing statistics, as well as additional factors contributing to home- lessness.
Recently, foreclosures have increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless released an entire report discussing the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report found that there was a 32% jump in the number of foreclosures between April 2008 and April 2009. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4%. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes (31 - 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure.
Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.
In 2007, 12.5% of the U.S. population, or 37,300,00 million people, lived in poverty. The official poverty rate in 2007 was not statistically different than 2006 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2007). Children are overrepresented, composing 35.7% of people in poverty while only being 24.8% of the total population.
Two factors help account for increasing poverty: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce and the declining value and availability of public assistance.
ERODING WORK OPPORTUNITIES
Reasons why homelessness persists include stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs which offer fewer benefits.
Low-wage workers have been particularly have been left behind as the disparity between rich and poor has mushroomed. To compound the problem, the real value of the minimum wage in 2004 was 26% less than in 1979 (The Economic Policy Institute, 2005). Factors contributing to wage declines include a steep drop in the number and bargaining power of unionized workers; erosion in the value of the minimum wage; a decline in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment; globalization; and increased nonstandard work, such as temporary and part-time employment (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, 1999). To combat this, Congress has planned a gradual minimum wage increase, resulting in minimum wage raised to $9.50 by 2011.
Declining wages, in turn, have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stated that in every state more than the minimum-wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing. Unfortunately, for 12 million Americans, more then 50% of their salaries go towards renting or housing costs, resulting in sacrifices in other essential areas like health care and savings.
The connection between impoverished workers and homelessness can be seen in homeless shelters, many of which house significant numbers of full-time wage earners. In 2007, a survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 17.4% of homeless adults in families were employed while 13% of homeless single adults or unaccompanied youth were employed. In the 2008 report, eleven out of nineteen cities reported an increased in employed homeless people.
With unemployment rates remaining high, jobs are hard to find in the current economy. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.
DECLINE IN PUBLIC ASSISTANCE
The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness. Until its repeal in August 1996, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the federal welfare reform law) repealed the AFDC program and replaced it with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). In 2005, TANF helped a third of the children that AFDC helped reach above the 50% poverty line. Unfortunately, TANF has not been able to kept up with inflation. In 2006-2008, TANF case load has continued to decline while food stamp caseloads have increased
Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families. This increase can be traced directly to the declining number of children lifted above one-half of the poverty line by government cash assistance for the poor (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998).
As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing.
People with disabilities, too, must struggle to obtain and maintain stable housing. In 2006, on a national average, monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment rose to $715 per month which is a 113.1% of a person’s on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly income (Priced Out in 2006). For the first time, the national average rent for a studio apartment rose above the income of a person who relies only on SSI income. Recently, only nine percent of non-institutionalized people receiving SSI receive housing assistance (Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, 2005).
Most states have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.
A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness.
According to HUD, in recent years the shortages of affordable housing are most severe for units affordable to renters with extremely low incomes. Federal support for low-income housing has fallen 49% from 1980 to 2003 (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). About 200,000 rental housing units are destroyed annually. Renting is one of the most viable options for low income people (Joint Center for Housing Studies).
Since 2000, the incomes of low-income households has declined as rents continue to rise (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005).In 2009, a worker would need to earn $14.97 to afford a one-bedroom apartment and $17.84 to afford a two-bedroom apartment. There has been an increase of 41% from 2000 to 2009 in fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit, according to HUD (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009).
The lack of affordable housing has lead to high rent burdens (rents which absorb a high proportion of income), overcrowding, and substandard housing. These phenomena, in turn, have not only forced many people to become homeless; they have put a large and growing number of people at risk of becoming homeless.
Housing assistance can make the difference between stable housing, precarious housing, or no housing at all. However, the demand for assisted housing clearly exceeds the supply: only about one-third of poor renter households receive a housing subsidy from the federal, state, or a local government (Daskal, 1998). The limited level of housing assistance means that most poor families and individuals seeking housing assistance are placed on long waiting lists. Today the average wait for Section 8 Vouchers is 35 months (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004).
Excessive waiting lists for public housing mean that people must remain in shelters or inadequate housing arrangements longer. In a survey of 24 cities, people remain homeless an average of seven months, and 87% of cities reported that the length of time people are homeless has increased in recent years (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Longer stays in homeless shelters result in less shelter space available for other homeless people, who must find shelter elsewhere or live on the streets. In 2007, it was found that average stay in homeless shelters for households with children was 5.7 months, while this number is only slightly smaller for singles and unaccompanied children at 4.7 months. (The U.S. Conference for Mayors, 2007).
In 2003, the federal government spent almost twice as much in housing-related tax expenditures and direct housing assistance for households in the top income quintile than on housing subsidies for the lowest-income households (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). Thus, federal housing policy has not responded to the needs of low-income households, while disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest Americans.
Particularly within the context of poverty and the lack of affordable housing, certain additional factors may push people into homelessness. Other major factors, which can contribute to homelessness, include the following:
Lack of Affordable Health Care: For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction. One in three Americans, or 86.7 million people, is uninsured. Of those uninsured, 30.7% are under eighteen. In 2007-2008, four out of five people that were uninsured were working families. Work-based health insurance has become rarer in recent years, especially for workers in the agricultural or service sectors (Families USA, 2009).
Domestic Violence: Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).Approximately 63% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence in their adult lives (Network to End Domestic Violence).
Mental Illness: Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Despite the disproportionate number of severely mentally ill people among the homeless population, increases in homelessness are not attributable to the release of severely mentally ill people from institutions. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, yet vast increases in homelessness did not occur until the 1980s, when incomes and housing options for those living on the margins began to diminish rapidly. According to the 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report, most homeless persons with mental illness do not need to be institutionalized, but can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). However, many mentally ill homeless people are unable to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. The mental health support services most needed include case management, housing, and treatment.
Addiction Disorders: The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. While rates of alcohol and drug abuse are disproportionately high among the homeless population, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness. Addiction does increase the risk of displacement for the precariously housed; in the absence of appropriate treatment, it may doom one's chances of getting housing once on the streets. Homeless people often face insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care, including addictive disorder treatment services and recovery supports.
Homelessness results from a complex set of circumstances that require people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. Only a concerted effort to ensure jobs that pay a living wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, and access to health care will bring an end to homelessness.
How Many People Experience Homelessness?
Many people call or write the National Coalition for the Homeless to ask about the number of homeless people in the United States. There is no easy answer to this question and, in fact, the question itself is misleading. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance -- not a permanent condition. A more appropriate measure of the magnitude of homelessness is the number of people who experience homelessness over time, not the number of "homeless people."
Studies of homelessness are complicated by problems of definitions and methodology. This fact sheet describes definitions of homelessness, methodologies for counting homeless people, recent estimates of homelessness, and estimates of the increase in homelessness over the past two decades. Additional resources for further study are also provided.
DEFINITIONS AND STATISTICS
As a result of methodological and financial constraints, most studies are limited to counting people who are in shelters or on the streets. While this approach may yield useful information about the number of people who use services such as shelters and soup kitchens, or who are easy to locate on the street, it can result in underestimates of homelessness. Many people who lack a stable, permanent residence have few shelter options because shelters are filled to capacity or are unavailable. A recent study conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 12 of the 23 cities surveyed had to turn people in need of shelter away due to a lack of capacity. Ten of the cities found an increase in households with children seeking access to shelters and transitional housing while six cities cited increases in the numbers of individuals seeking these resources (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).
On an average night in the 23 cities surveyed, 94 percent of people living on the streets were single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors. Seventy percent of those in emergency shelters were single adults, 29 percent were part of families and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Of those in transitional housing, 43 percent were single adults, 56 percent were part of families, and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Those who occupied permanent supportive housing were 60 percent single adults, 39.5 percent were part of families, and .5 percent were unaccompanied minors (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008).
The average length of stay in emergency shelter was 69 days for single men, 51 days for single women, and 70 days for families. For those staying in transitional housing, the average stay for single men was 175 days, 196 days for single women, and 223 days for families. Permanent supportive housing had the longest average stay, with 556 days for single men, 571 days for single women, and 604 days for women (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008). The homeless population is estimated to be 42 percent African-American, 39 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Native American and 2 percent Asian, although it varies widely depending on the part of the country. An average of 26 percent of homeless people are considered mentally ill, while 13 percent of homeless individuals were physically disabled (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008). Nineteen percent of single homeless people are victims of domestic violence while 13 percent are veterans and 2 percent are HIV positive. Nineteen percent of homeless people are employed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008).
In addition, a study of homelessness in 50 cities found that in virtually every city, the city's official estimated number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2004). Moreover, there are few or no shelters in rural areas of the United States, despite significant levels of homelessness (Brown, 2002). The Council for Affordable and Rural Housing estimates that about nine percent of the nation’s homeless are in rural areas (The Council for Affordable and Rural Housing). As a result of these and other factors, many people in homeless situations are forced to live with relatives and friends in crowded, temporary arrangements. People in these situations are experiencing homelessness, but are less likely to be counted. For instance, of the children and youth identified as homeless by the Department of Education in FY2000, only 35% lived in shelters; 34% lived doubled-up with family or friends, and 23% lived in motels and other locations. Yet, these children and youth may not immediately be recognized as homeless and are sometimes denied access to shelter or the protections and services of the McKinney-Vento Act (U.S. Department of Education).
Researchers use different methods to measure homelessness. One method attempts to count all the people who are literally homeless on a given day or during a given week (point-in-time counts). A second method of counting homeless people examines the number of people who are homeless over a given period of time (period prevalence counts).
Choosing between point-in-time counts and period-prevalence counts has significant implications for understanding the magnitude and dynamics of homelessness. The high turnover in the homeless population documented by recent studies (see below) suggests that many more people experience homelessness than previously thought and that most of these people do not remain homeless. Because point-in-time studies give just a "snapshot" picture of homelessness, they only count those who are homeless at a particular time. Over time, however, some people will find housing and escape homelessness while new people will lose housing and become homeless. Systemic social and economic factors (prolonged unemployment or sudden loss of a job, lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, etc.) are frequently responsible for these episodes of homelessness. Point-in-time studies do not accurately identify these intermittently homeless people, and therefore tend to overestimate the proportion of people who are so-called “chronically homeless” -- particularly those who suffer from severe mental illness and/or addiction disorders and therefore have a much harder time escaping homelessness and finding permanent housing. For these reasons, point-in-time counts are often criticized as misrepresenting the magnitude and nature of homelessness.
There is another important methodological issue that should be considered. Regardless of the time period over which the study was conducted, many people will not be counted because they are not in places researchers can easily find. This group of people, often referred to as "the unsheltered" or "hidden" homeless, frequently stay in automobiles, camp grounds, or other places that researchers cannot effectively search. For instance, a national study of formerly homeless people found that the most common places people who had been homeless stayed were vehicles (59.2%) and makeshift housing, such as tents, boxes, caves, or boxcars (24.6%) (Link et al., 1995). This suggests that homeless counts may miss significant numbers of people who are homeless, including those living in doubled-up situations.
NATIONAL ESTIMATES OF HOMELESSNESS
There are several national estimates of homelessness. Many are dated, or based on dated information. For all of the reasons discussed above, none of these estimates is the definitive representation of "how many people are homeless.” In a recent approximation USA Today estimated 1.6 million people unduplicated persons used transitional housing or emergency shelters. Of these people, approximately 1/3 are members of households with children, a nine percent increase since 2007. Another approximation is from a study done by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty which states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007).
These numbers, based on findings from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Urban Institute and specifically the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers, draw their estimates from a study of service providers across the country at two different times of the year in 1996. They found that, on a given night in October, 444,000 people (in 346,000 households) experienced homelessness – which translates to 6.3% of the population of people living in poverty. On a given night in February, 842,000 (in 637,000 households) experienced homelessness – which translates to almost 10% of the population of people living in poverty. Converting these estimates into an annual projection, the numbers that emerge are 2.3 million people (based on the October estimate) and 3.5 million people (based on the February estimate). This translates to approximately 1% of the U.S. population experiencing homelessness each year, 38% (October) to 39% (February) of them being children (Urban Institute 2000).
It is also important to note that this study was based on a national survey of service providers. Since not all people experiencing homelessness utilize service providers, the actual numbers of people experiencing homelessness are likely higher than those found in the study, Thus, we are estimating on the high end of the study’s numbers: 3.5 million people, 39% of which are children (Urban Institute 2000).
In early 2007, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported a point-in-time estimate of 744,313 people experiencing homelessness in January 2005.
IS HOMELESSNESS INCREASING?
One limited measure of the growth in homelessness is the increase in the number of shelter beds over time. A 1991 study examined homelessness "rates" (the number of shelter beds in a city divided by the city's population) in 182 U.S. cities with populations over 100,000. The study found that homelessness rates tripled between 1981 and 1989 for the 182 cities as a group (Burt, 1997).
A 1997 review of research conducted over the past decade (1987-1997) in 11 communities and 4 states found that shelter capacity more than doubled in 9 communities and 3 states during that time period (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1997). In two communities and two states, shelter capacity tripled over the decade.
These numbers are useful for measuring the growth in demand for shelter beds (and the resources made available to respond to that growth) over time. They indicate a dramatic increase in homelessness in the United States over the past two decades. Additionally, in the U.S. Conference of Mayors report from 2008, 19 of the 25 cities reported an increase in homelessness from 2007. More specifically, 16 cities reported an increase in the number of homeless families.
Also, due to the recent foreclosures crisis, homelessness has been on the rise. In the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s 2008 Report, 12 of the 25 cities surveyed reported an increase in homelessness due to foreclosures and another 6 didn’t have enough data to be sure. Thirteen of these cities had adopted policies to deal with the recent increase in victims of the housing crisis, but 10 cities had not implemented new policies.
By its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. More important than knowing the precise number of people who experience homelessness is our progress in ending it. Recent studies suggest that the United States generates homelessness at a much higher rate than previously thought. Our task in ending homelessness is thus more important now than ever.
Who is Homeless?
This fact sheet reviews definitions of homelessness and describes the demographic characteristics of persons who experience homelessness. A list of resources for further study is also provided.
According to the Stewart B. McKinney Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11301, et seq. (1994), a person is considered homeless who "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence; and... has a primary night time residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." The term “homeless individual” does not include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained pursuant to an Act of Congress or a state law." 42 U.S.C. § 11302(c)
The education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act includes a more comprehensive definition of homelessness. This statute states that the term ‘homeless child and youth’ (A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence... and (B) includes: (i) children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, and includes children and youth who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement; (ii) children and youth who have a primary nighttime residence that is a private or public place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings... (iii) children and youth who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings, and (iv) migratory children...who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii). McKinney-Vento Act sec. 725(2); 42 U.S.C. 11435(2).
Other federal agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), interpret the McKinney-Vento definition to include only those persons who are on the streets or in shelters and persons who face imminent eviction (within a week) from a private dwelling or institution and who have no subsequent residence or resources to obtain housing. This interpretation of homelessness serves large, urban communities where tens of thousands of people are literally homeless. However, it may prove problematic for those persons who are homeless in areas of the country, such as rural areas, where there are few shelters. People experiencing homelessness in these areas are less likely to live on the street or in a shelter, and more likely to live with relatives in overcrowded or substandard housing (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1996).
Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Persons living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless, and demographic groups who are more likely to experience poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness. Recent demographic statistics are summarized below.
In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population; 42% of these children were under the age of five (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2004). This same study found that unaccompanied minors comprised 5% of the urban homeless population. However, in other cities and especially in rural areas, the numbers of children experiencing homelessness are much higher. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, in 2004, 25% of homeless were ages 25 to 34; the same study found percentages of homeless persons aged 55 to 64 at 6%.
Most studies show that single homeless adults are more likely to be male than female. In 2007, a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that of the population surveyed 35% of the homeless people who are members of households with children are male while 65% of these people are females. However, 67.5% of the single homeless population is male, and it is this single population that makes up 76% of the homeless populations surveyed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).
The number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade. Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In its 2007 survey of 23 American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007). These proportions are likely to be higher in rural areas. Research indicates that families, single mothers, and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas (Vissing, 1996). All 21 cities with available data cited an increase in the number of persons requesting food assistance for the first-time. The increase was particularly notable among working families. (U.S. conference of mayors 2008)
As the number of families experiencing homelessness rises and the number of affordable housing units shrinks, families are subject to much longer stays in the shelter system. For instance, in the mid-1990s in New York, families stayed in a shelter an average of five months before moving on to permanent housing. Today, the average stay is 5.7 months, and some surveys say the average is closer to a year (U. S. Conference of Mayors, 2007 and Santos, 2002). For more information, see our fact sheet on Homeless Families with Children.
In its 2006 survey of 25 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayor found that the sheltered homeless population is estimated to be 42 percent African-American, 38 percent white, 20 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Native American and 2 percent Asian. (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2006). Like the total U.S. population, the ethnic makeup of homeless populations varies according to geographic location. For example, people experiencing homelessness in rural areas are much more likely to be white; homelessness among Native Americans and migrant workers is also largely a rural phenomenon (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1996).
VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In a study of 777 homeless parents (the majority of whom were mothers) in ten U.S. cities, 22% said they had left their last place of residence because of domestic violence (Homes for the Homeless, 1998). A 2003 survey of 100 homeless mothers in 10 locations around the country found that 25% of the women had been physically abused in the last year (American Civil Liberties Union, 2004). In addition, 50% of the 24 cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Studying the entire country, though, reveals that the problem is even more serious. Nationally, approximately half of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence (Zorza, 1991; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2001).Twenty two cities reported that, on average, 15 percent of homeless persons were victims of domestic violence (U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008).
Research indicates that 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces, as compared to 34% of the general adult population (Rosenheck et al., 1996). In 2005, the U.S. Conference of Mayors' survey of 24 American cities found that 11% of the homeless population were veterans – however, this does not take gender into account (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that on any given night, 271,000 veterans are homeless (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 1994). The 24 cities providing this information estimated that 13 percent of persons experiencing homelessness were veterans. Veterans are slightly over-represented among the homeless population compared to their prevalence in the overall population (11.2 percent) (U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008).
PERSONS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
Persons with severe mental illness represented about 26 percent of all sheltered homeless persons (Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 2008). According to the Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, only 5-7% of homeless persons with mental illness require institutionalization; most can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, 1992). For more information, see our fact sheet on The 23 cities that provided information reported that 26 percent of their homeless population suffered from a serious mental illness. By contrast, only six percent of the U.S. population suffers from a serious mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008).
PERSONS SUFFERING FROM ADDICTION DISORDERS
Surveys of homeless populations conducted during the 1980s found consistently high rates of addiction, particularly among single men; however, recent research has called the results of those studies into question (Koegel et al., 1996). In Summary, the studies that produced high prevalence rates greatly over represented long-term shelter users and single men, and used lifetime rather than current measures of addiction. While there is no generally accepted "magic number" with respect to the prevalence of addiction disorders among homeless adults, the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ number in 2005 was 30%, and the frequently cited figure of about 65% is probably at least double the real rate for current addiction disorders among all single adults who are homeless in a year. Among surveyed homeless people 38% have an alcohol problem, and 26% report problems with other drugs (National Health Care for the Homeless Council).
Declining wages have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2001). In fact, in the median state a minimum-wage worker would have to work 89 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing (National Low Income Housing Coalition 2001). Thus, inadequate income leaves many people homeless. The U.S. Conference of Mayors' 2005 survey of 24 American cities found that 13% of the urban homeless population were employed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005), though recent surveys by the U.S. Conference of Mayors have reported as high as 25%. In a number of cities not surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors - as well as in many states - the percentage is even higher (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1997). When asked to identify the three main causes of hunger in their city, 83 percent of cities cited poverty, 74 percent cited unemployment and 57 percent cited the high cost of housing. (U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008).
As this fact sheet makes clear, people who become homeless do not fit one general description. However, people experiencing homelessness do have certain shared basic needs, including affordable housing, adequate incomes, and health care. Some homeless people may need additional services such as mental health or drug treatment in order to remain securely housed. All of these needs must be met to prevent and to end homelessness.
Things to Do if You May Become Homeless in a Few Weeks
If you may become homeless in a few weeks, one of the first things to do is to see if there are any prevention or assistance programs near you. Reading the section called Directories can help you find those programs.
In addition, Russell Sjoblom, who was recently homeless with his family, has compiled a list of suggestions for people who are in danger of becoming homeless. Russell offers advice on money, food, transportation, shelter, storage, help paying for medications, social security and disability.
Hi, My name is Russell Sjoblom. My family and I were recently homeless for a few years, but have since found a place to call home. I believe that if I knew some of the things then that I know now we could have possibly prevented our homelessness. We became homeless due to an injury to myself on the job that ultimately disabled me for life and put me, the principal breadwinner, out of work. Through our experiences, we found many obstacles to overcome. Though not all were overcome, we found a way to get back up by persistence and although it was not easy at all, we DID NOT give up. Here I have written down what I feel are some of the most important things to do to try to prevent becoming homeless and even aid in recovery from homelessness. There are things to look out for and things to do to obtain medication, food, health care, financial assistance, schooling, and housing assistance and temporary housing and shelter. We still have to deal with staying housed and as I get more information I will update this file. I hope this information will help you. Good luck and God bless. The Sjoblom family's experience in its entirety can be found at (New link to supplemental for If You are Homeless document)
Things to Do if You May Become Homeless in a Few Days
If you only have a few days before you may become homeless, it is helpful to start making plans. The goal should be either to avoid going to an emergency shelter, or, if that can't be avoided, to make your stay there as short as possible. Depending on how much time you have before you might become homeless, try one or all of the following: Try to locate an assistance program near you. Some agencies provide homeless prevention assistance. These programs may have waiting lists, require an appointment/interview, or have certain restrictions on who they serve. For these reasons, the sooner you can find a program that may be able help you, the better. If you do not know of any programs near you, the section Sources of Help may help you find one.
Apply for Public Housing and/or Section 8 Housing Waiting lists for public and Section 8 housing vary across the country, but in many cases, the waiting list for public housing is shorter than for Section 8 housing. You can find out how to apply by looking for the number of your local public housing authority in the government section of the phone book.
Apply for Transitional Housing In some communities, transitional housing is an option for people who are homeless. Transitional housing programs vary greatly across the country as far as who they serve and what their requirements are. You will have to fill out an application and make an appointment for an interview. Follow through with as many of these programs as possible.
Make sure your ID is current and available. If your driver's license has expired, or been taken for a traffic ticket, etc., reapply or get your State ID processed. If you only have a printout of your Social Security Card, get a new card to replace it as soon as possible. Many shelters and employers have strict ID requirements, and it will make things easier if you have these things ready or in process. Set up a P.O. Box for delivery and mail if that is possible.
Make an Emergency Pack. If you have more than two bags for yourself, or one for each child, try to find someone you know who can and will hold your things for you. Almost every shelter has limits on the amount of baggage people can carry with them because they don't have enough space.
Pack the things you can take with you. Try to arrange a ride or some sort of transportation for the day you'll have to leave. If there is anyone who can lend you some money, now would be the time to borrow it. Try to keep at least $20-$50 with you in a safe place just for emergencies. Make sure your ID is in a safe and accessible place -- you will want to take it with you.
Some shelters charge money, or have strict ID requirements. These recommendations are just suggestions so that you will have the most resources at your disposal when you need it.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) has founded a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline to ensure that homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. The hotline is intended to assist homeless Veterans and their families, VA Medical Centers, federal, state and local partners, community agencies, service providers and others in the community. To be connected with trained VA staff member call 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838). National Call Center Webpage
The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program is offered annually (as funding permits) by the VA to fund community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless Veterans. Under the Capital Grant Component VA may fund up to 65% of the project for the construction, acquisition, or renovation of facilities or to purchase van(s) to provide outreach and services to homeless Veterans. Per Diem is available to grantees to help off-set operational expenses. Non-Grant programs may apply for Per Diem under a separate announcement, when published in the Federal Register, announcing the funding for “Per Diem Only.” Grant/Per Diem Website
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) Program provides permanent housing and ongoing case management treatment services for homeless Veterans who require these supports to live independently. HUD has allocated over 20,000 “Housing Choice” Section 8 vouchers to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) throughout the country for eligible homeless Veterans. This program allows Veterans and their families to live in Veteran-selected apartment units. The vouchers are portable, allowing Veterans to live in communities where VA case management services can be provided. This program provides for our most vulnerable Veterans, and is especially helpful to Veterans with families, women Veterans, recently returning Veterans and Veterans with disabilities. Evaluation of an earlier, similar program demonstrated that most Veteran participants remained permanently housed. HUD-VASH Website
The core mission of HCHV is primarily to perform outreach, provided by VA social workers and other mental health clinicians, to identify homeless veterans who are eligible for VA services and assist these veterans in accessing appropriate healthcare and benefits. In addition to its initial core mission, HCHV also functions as a mechanism to contract with providers for community-based residential treatment for homeless veterans. HCHV Website
VA programs and staff have actively participated in each of the Stand Downs for Homeless Veterans run by local coalitions in various cities each year. In wartime Stand Downs, front line troops are removed to a place of relative safety for rest and needed assistance before returning to combat. Similarly, peacetime Stand Downs give homeless Veterans 1-3 days of safety and security where they can obtain food, shelter, clothing, and a range of other types of assistance, including VA provided health care, benefits certification, and linkages with other programs. Stand Down Website
In VA's Compensated Work Therapy/Transitional Residence (CWT/TR) Program, disadvantaged, at-risk, and homeless Veterans live in CWT/TR community-based supervised group homes while working for pay in VA's Compensated Work Therapy Program (also known as Veterans Industries). Veterans in the CWT/TR program work about 33 hours per week, with approximate earnings of $732 per month, and pay an average of $186 per month toward maintenance and up-keep of the residence. The average length of stay is about 174 days. VA contracts with private industry and the public sector for work done by these Veterans, who learn new job skills, relearn successful work habits, and regain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. CWT Website
The Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education, and Networking Groups (CHALENG) for Veterans is a nationwide initiative in which VA medical center and regional office directors work with other federal, state, and local agencies and nonprofit organizations to assess the needs of homeless Veterans, develop action plans to meet identified needs, and develop directories that contain local community resources to be used by homeless Veterans. As the role of women in the military continues to expand, CHALENG seeks to better understand the needs of women and families through several measures. In 2008, women's health, child care, family reunification, family counseling, and legal assistance for child support issues were among the measures assessed by 11,711 survey participants (6,613 of whom are current or former homeless Veterans). CHALENG Website
More than 10,000 representatives from non-VA organizations have participated in Project CHALENG initiatives, which include holding conferences at VA medical centers to raise awareness of the needs of homeless Veterans, creating new partnerships in the fight against homelessness, and developing new strategies for future action.
The Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) Program provides biopsychosocial treatment and rehabilitation to homeless Veterans. The program provides residential treatment to approximately 5,000 homeless Veterans with health problems each year and the average length of stay in the program is 4 months. The domiciliaries conduct outreach and referral; vocational counseling and rehabilitation; and post-discharge community support.
Like the HUD-VASH program identified above, staff in VA's Supported Housing Program provides ongoing case management services to homeless Veterans. Emphasis is placed on helping Veterans find permanent housing and providing clinical support needed to keep veterans in permanent housing. Staff in these programs operate without benefit of the specially dedicated Section 8 housing vouchers available in the HUD-VASH program but are often successful in locating transitional or permanent housing through local means, especially by collaborating with Veterans Service Organizations.
These programs provide a daytime sanctuary where homeless Veterans can clean up, wash their clothes, and participate in a variety of therapeutic and rehabilitative activities. Linkages with longer-term assistance are also available.
VHA has provided specialized funding to support twelve Veterans Benefits Counselors as members of HCMI and Homeless Domiciliary Programs as authorized by Public Law 102-590. These specially funded staff provide dedicated outreach, benefits counseling, referral, and additional assistance to eligible Veterans applying for VA benefits. This specially funded initiative complements VBA's ongoing efforts to target homeless Veterans for special attention. To reach more homeless Veterans, designated homeless Veterans coordinators at VBA's 58 regional offices annually make over 4,700 visits to homeless facilities and over 9,000 contacts with non-VA agencies working with the homeless and provide over 24,000 homeless Veterans with benefits counseling and referrals to other VA programs. These special outreach efforts are assumed as part of ongoing duties and responsibilities. VBA has also instituted new procedures to reduce the processing times for homeless Veterans' benefits claims.
This program makes all the properties VA obtains through foreclosures on VA-insured mortgages available for sale to homeless provider organizations at a discount of 20 to 50 percent, depending on time of the market.
This initiative provides for the distribution of federal excess personal property, such as hats, parkas, footwear, socks, sleeping bags, and other items to homeless Veterans and homeless veteran programs. A Compensated Work Therapy Program employing formerly homeless Veterans has been established at the Medical Center in Lyons, NJ to receive, warehouse, and ship these goods to VA homeless programs across the country.
VA has built program monitoring and evaluation into all of its homeless Veterans' treatment initiatives and it serves as an integral component of each program. Designed, implemented, and maintained by the Northeast Program Evaluation Center (NEPEC) at VAMC West Haven, CT, these evaluation efforts provide important information about the Veterans served and the therapeutic value and cost effectiveness of the specialized programs. Information from these evaluations also helps program managers determine new directions to pursue in order to expand and improve services to homeless Veterans.
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