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The Nation

Study shows 744,000 were homeless in U.S. in 2005

January 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

There were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005, according to the first national estimate in a decade.

A little more than half of them were living in shelters, and nearly a quarter were chronically homeless, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an advocacy group.

A majority of the homeless were single adults, but about 41% were in families, the report says.

California had the largest homeless population, about 170,000, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia, the report says.

The group compiled data collected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development from service providers throughout the country. The study is the first since 1996 to look at the number of homeless people nationwide. The earlier study came up with a wide-ranging estimate: between 444,000 and 842,000.

Counting people without permanent addresses, especially those living on the street, is an inexact process. But the new study is expected to provide a baseline to help measure progress on the issue.

"Having this data brings all of us another step closer to understanding the scope and nature of homelessness in America, and establishing this baseline is an extremely challenging task," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said. "Understanding homelessness is a necessary step to addressing it successfully."

HUD plans to release its own report on homelessness in the coming weeks, Jackson said. In the future, the department will issue annual reports on the number of homeless people in the U.S., he said.

Some cities and states have done their own counts of the homeless, providing a mix of trends, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. For example, New York City and San Francisco have seen decreases, while the number of homeless in Washington, D.C., has increased, she said.

"In the last 12 to 18 months, the homeless population has essentially exploded in Philadelphia," said Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project, which provides free legal services to the homeless there. "We are seeing big increases in singles and families, both on the street and attempting to enter the homeless system.

"It's a whole influx of new people, and that's the really scary part," Cohen said.

In Columbus, Ohio, workers are scrambling to help an increasing number of people living under bridges and in wooded encampments near rivers and streams, said Barbara Poppe, executive director of the Community Shelter Board.

"We're very concerned about the health and well-being of those people being out in the elements," Poppe said. "We had an encampment set on fire, and we had a woman struck by a train."

Nevada had the highest share of its population homeless, about 0.7%. It was followed by Rhode Island, Colorado, California and Hawaii.

Advocates for the homeless blame Nevada's high rate on drugs, gambling, mental health issues, low wages, high rents and a lack of insurance.

A lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness nationally, Roman said.

"If we don't do something to address the crisis in affordable housing, we are not going to solve homelessness," she said.

Many of the chronically homeless have mental health and substance abuse problems, she said, and others simply cannot afford housing.

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