NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Are The Homeless?

December 8, 1999

A massive new study reveals that almost half of those who lack homes are experiencing their first episode of homelessness.

  • Some 44 percent had worked at least part-time in the previous month and 42 percent said what they needed more than anything was help finding a job.
  • Two-thirds of the homeless surveyed were suffering from chronic or infectious diseases (not counting AIDS), 55 percent lacked health insurance and 39 percent had signs of mental illness.
  • Twenty-seven percent reported a childhood history of foster care or institutional placement.
  • While the study did not offer an estimate of the overall homeless population, it did estimate that 470,000 people were in shelters on an average February night in 1996 -- and calculated that they were only one-quarter of the people who were homeless at any one time during the year.

There are about 40,000 programs that serve the homeless nationwide.

The study was based on Census Bureau surveys and the collection and analysis of data involved 12 federal agencies. The 600 pages of statistics were the result of interviews with 12,000 service providers and 4,000 homeless persons.

Source: Nina Bernstein, "Deep Poverty and Illness Found Among Homeless," New York Times, December 8, 1999.


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