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Homeless F.A.Q.

Who are the homeless?
More than 744,000 people in the United States are homeless in 2006. Homeless in American took a 12 percent jump from 2005 to 2006.  That total includes people who are living on the streets, staying in shelters, or living in transitional housing. More than 40 percent are in families; about a third is children.

"Street homelessness" is the image commonly presented to portray homelessness, only a minority of the 744,000 homeless people in our region regularly live on the streets. Nearly one-third of the region's homeless adults are employed; in some areas, the share of employed homeless people is even higher. In Fairfax/Falls Church, for example, nearly half of all homeless adults in families are employed.

How many people are homeless?
No one knows exactly how many people are homeless. Even estimates aren't very accurate.  While counting people in shelters and soup kitchens is helpful, it causes us to underestimate the extent of homelessness in the United States.
Two different methods used to measure homelessness are counting people who are homeless on a given day or week (point-in-time counts), and examining the number of people who are homeless over a period of time (period-prevalence counts) (Coalition for Homeless).  
Point-in-time count studies only give you a small look at homelessness, because the people who are counted are homeless only at a particular time.  Some of these people will find jobs and housing, and won't be homeless any longer, while others will become homeless later.  In one certain week of 1988, 500,000-600,000 people were found homeless in shelters, soup kitchens, and on the streets (NCH).  Period-prevalence counts also won't be accurate.  Many people will not be counted because they are the "hidden homeless".  Some people will stay in places that won't be searched.  For instance, some will sleep in cars, tents, boxes, or caves.  Other homeless people aren't on the streets.  They even have homes!  These people double-up with family members or relatives.  I mean, most people don't choose to have ten people in a two-bedroom apartment.  These people won't be counted.  A survey taken from 1985-1990 showed that seven million people across the United States were homeless at some point during that time (NCH).

Age - Children under18 make up 27% of the homeless population; People between the ages of 3 and 50 makeup 51% of the homeless population; people between the ages of 55and 60 account for 2.5-194%

Gender - Single adults who are homeless are most likely to be men they account for 45% of the single adults who are homeless; single women make up 14%
Families with children are now the fastest growing group of the homeless population, they account for about 40% of the people who become homeless each year. 38% of the people already homeless are families with children.

Ethnicity - African American - 57%; Caucasian - 30%; Hispanic - 10%; Native American - 2%; Asian - 1%

50% of America's homeless women and children are running from domestic abuse.
Veterans - Of all homeless men 40% of them have served in the armed forces. Only 34% of the total adult male population has served in the armed forces 19% of the urban homeless population are veterans.

Mental Illness - 20-25% of the single adult homeless population mentally ill. Only 5-7% of the mentally ill homeless need to be institutionalized.
The entire homeless population does not fit one description although, they do have shared needs. These need include affordable housing, adequate income and health care, some need psychological help and drug treatment. Most of all they need the help of those around them who are stable and fortunate enough to help.
In  1996, the U.S. Conference of Mayors' took a survey of homelessness in twenty-nine cities.  The results showed that children under the age of eighteen were 27% of the urban homeless population.  In 1987, the Urban Institute found that 51% of the homeless population were from thirty-five to fifty years old.  Percentages of homeless people from fifty-five to sixty years old were 2.5% to 19.4%.
The Conference of Mayors' in 1996, found that single men and women make up 45% and 14% of the homeless population, respectively.

Why are people homeless?
The primary cause of homelessness is the shortage of affordable homes in the United States. According to "Out of Reach 2005" published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a worker earning minimum wage a major city in America would have to work 143 hours per week to afford an average (fair market rent) two-bedroom apartment. So, with regional fair market rents averaging more than $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, many working families are struggling to find homes within financial reach or to hold onto the ones they have.
Challenging life situations also cause people to become homeless. People get evicted from their homes because they cannot afford steep rent hikes. People lose their jobs and wind up on the streets. Single mothers show up at shelters with their children because they cannot afford to work and pay for child care. Other people end up homeless because they are too sick to work or were forced to flee an abusive home. Some people who ran away or were pushed out of their homes as teenagers cannot afford to live on their own. While everyone's story is different, all homeless people have one thing in common: They have no permanent place to call home.

Is there a solution?
Yes, preventing and ending homelessness is possible. One of the keys to ending homelessness is increasing the supply of permanent affordable homes for people with low to extremely low incomes. For many homeless people, simply finding safe, decent housing they can afford will allow them to get back on their feet and provide them the opportunity to resolve other problems, if any, which might have contributed to their homelessness. But for others, affordable housing may need to be accompanied by access to a variety of social services (e.g., health care, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and job training). The optimal solution for this subset of the homeless population is permanent supportive housing, or housing where people can live as long as they choose, and have access to the services they need for as long as they need them.