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HOMELESSNESS: KNOW THE FACTS

Before the financial crisis of 2008, most Americans contemplated the plight of the homeless just long enough to reinforce widely held notions of who the homeless were and what set them on their tragic journeys. By 2010, however, average hardworking citizens were confronting record-breaking foreclosures and a new reality accompanied by the new face of homelessness, which for many had become their own. No longer confined to the stereotypes of the mentally ill, substance abusers or alcoholics, homelessness had reached historic numbers. A report issued that year by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed one in 200 Americans experienced homelessness and that the number of families seeking emergency shelter on any given night had increased 9 percent.

As a growing population and deepening division between classes continues to plunge the country deeper into widespread homelessness and high costs of living, there is an acute need for affordable rental housing and related services, especially in Southern states, like Florida, where rents are high and vacancy rates are low.

Here are 10 facts about homelessness to help you stay informed: 

FACT 1: There are two main categories of homelessness: economic or episodic homelessness and chronic homelessness. Episodic homeless are characterized by individuals and families that experience homelessness due to job loss, health issues, or other unforeseen and uncontrollable hardships. Chronic homelessness, on the other hand, is defined by HUD as an individual who is “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” 

 

On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Most people are spending the night either in homeless shelters or in some sort of short-term transitional housing. Slightly more than a third are living in cars or under bridges or are in some other way living unsheltered.

FACT 2: One quarter of homeless people are children. HUD reports that on any given night, over 138,000 of the homeless in the U.S. are children under the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied, according to HUD. Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines “homeless children” more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship; living in cars, parks, bus or train stations; or awaiting foster-care placement. Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over 1 million homeless children in public schools.

FACT 3: Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless. Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night, according to HUD. Sixty percent of them are in shelters, the rest unsheltered. Nearly 5,000 are female.

FACT 4: Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), more than 90 percent of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.

FACT 5: Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent. The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness, according to the NLCHP. HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50 percent in recent decades, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.

FACT 6: There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before. According to the NLCHP, one eighth of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The U.S. needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families, and as a result, millions of families spend more than half of their monthly income on rent.

FACT 7: In the last few years millions have lost their homes. Over 5 million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008; that’s one out of every 10 homes with a mortgage. This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.

FACT 8: The government does not help as much as you think. In Orlando, for instance, there are only 15 affordable rentals available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. This means the 48,000 households that make less that $18,000 per year within Orlando's four counties are forced to compete for the 7,200 rental units they can comfortably afford. Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. 

FACT 9: One in five homeless people suffers from untreated severe mental illness. While about 6 percent of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness, according to government studies. Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk for addiction and poor physical health. A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5,000 homeless people for two years discovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.

FACT 10: Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime. A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the NLCHP found that 24 percent of cities - including Orlando - make it a city-wide crime to beg in public, 33 percent make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city, 18 percent make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public, 43 percent make it illegal to sleep in your car, and 53 percent make it illegal to sit or lie down in particular public places. And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

The Survey of Best Practices from communities making a difference.

The Economic Impact Report on The Cost of Long-Term Homelessness in Central Florida.

The Study of Funding Best Practices recognized in cities who are reducing homelessness.

Homeless Veterans are Finding Their Way Home in Central Florida.

The Statewide Impact of Homelessness in Florida.

The Current State of Family Homelessness in Central Florida.

 

Donna Gallup. "The Changing Face of Homelessness: Beyond the Stereotypes". American Family Housing.  https://afhusa.org/the-changing-face-of-homelessness-beyond-the-stereotypes/

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Bill Quigley. "10 Fact About Homelessness". Huff Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/ten-facts-about-homelessn_b_5977946.html

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