Five myths about America's homeless
By Dennis Culhane
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Last month, the Obama administration released a plan designed to end homelessness in 10 years. The goal reflects new optimism among academics and advocates that homelessness is not an intractable feature of urban life, as it has sometimes seemed, but a problem that can be solved. This belief is fueled by recent research debunking a number of long-standing myths about homelessness in America -- and showing that many of our old policies were unwittingly making the problem worse. 1. Homelessness is usually a long-term condition.
To the contrary, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one or two days, and half the people who enter the homeless shelter system will leave within 30 days, never to return. Long-term homelessness is relatively rare. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about 2 million people in the United States were homeless at some point in 2009 (meaning they stayed overnight in a shelter or in a place not meant for human habitation). But on any given day, only about 112,000 people fit the federal definition of "chronic homelessness," which applies to those who have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or are experiencing at least their fourth episode of homelessness in three years. [pic]
Nearly all of the long-term homeless have tenuous family ties and some kind of disability, whether it is a drug or alcohol addiction, a mental illness, or a physical handicap. While they make up a small share of the homeless population, they are disproportionately costly to society: They consume nearly 60 percent of the resources spent on emergency and transitional shelter for adults, and they occupy hospitals and jails at high rates. 2. Most of the homeless have a severe mental illness.
Because the relatively small number of people living on the streets who suffer from paranoia, delusions and other mental disorders are...
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