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Q: "homelessness in the USA" ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: "homelessness in the USA"
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: imaginethat-ga
List Price: $75.00
Posted: 19 May 2003 09:51 PDT
Expires: 18 Jun 2003 09:51 PDT
Question ID: 205866
How much money has the federal government spent on homelessness since 1985?
What is the estimated number of homeless in the USA as of 2002?  As of 1985?
How many homelessness related nonprofits are there in the USA?

Request for Question Clarification by ragingacademic-ga on 20 May 2003 02:03 PDT
imaginethat -

Thanks for submitting your question to our forum.  I've been working
on your question, and it's definitely challenging.

Would you accept population estimates from other years?  For example,
I have 1983, 1984, 1987, 1996.

nonprofits - I can provide a guesstimate, but not an accurate number.

Please let me know if such data would be sufficient (in addition to
the budgetary data).


Clarification of Question by imaginethat-ga on 20 May 2003 14:18 PDT
Thank you for responding.  You may use the year(s) you mentioned. 
Also a guestimate on the nonprofit portion of the inquiry is fine.  I
need a foundation to begin my research and to continue using your fine

Imagine That
Subject: Re: "homelessness in the USA"
Answered By: ragingacademic-ga on 20 May 2003 23:11 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear imaginethat,

Thanks for your question.  First, let me request that if any of the
following is unclear or if you require any further research – please
don’t hesitate to ask me for a clarification.

You requested the following information – 

+ How much money has the federal government spent on homelessness
since 1985?
+ What is the estimated number of homeless in the USA as of 2002?  As
of 1985?
+ How many homelessness related nonprofits are there in the USA?

The subject you are researching is extremely interesting and there is
much debate concerning homelessness in the United States.  A recent
Washington Post article titled “Really Out of Line; The Government's
Poverty Measure Is 40 Years Old -- and Showing Its Age” stated that –

“The reason for this dissonance between the reality in America's
streets and official poverty data is the federal government's reliance
on the concept of the poverty line, an outdated measure that distorts
the true picture of indigence in our nation.”

The Washington Post; Washington, D.C.; Sep 15, 2002; Deepak Bhargava
and Joan Kuriansky;

The article goes on to state that – 

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported late last year that hunger and
homelessness had risen sharply in major American cities. Over the
previous year, requests for emergency food assistance climbed an
average of 23 percent and requests for emergency shelter assistance
rose an average of 13 percent in 27 cities surveyed. "Hunger remains a
very real problem in America and that problem has gotten worse over
the past four years," one charity official said in the report, which
predicted that food and shelter assistance requests would increase
again in 2002.”

As well as that -

“Hunger and homelessness are key indicators of poverty, yet census
figures have documented a decrease in poverty over four years for most
demographic groups, including those in America's cities.”

A 2001 article in the New York Times titled “Shift From Food Stamps To
Private Aid Widens” reports the following:

“Emergency feeding sites around the country serve more than 7 million
people in a given week, the survey found, and more than 23 million
people at some point in the course of a year obtain food from food
pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, most of them run by religious
charities. Four years ago, a similar survey found 21.4 million
Americans using private food charity.
During the same time, 17.7 million people used federal food stamps, a
drop from the 21.9 million who received food stamps in 1997, according
to the Agriculture Department.”

New York Times; New York, N.Y.; Nov 14, 2001; Elizabeth Becker;

This, of course, is but a proxy and not an estimate of homeless people
– a number that has been estimated by several sources to be much
smaller.  Let’s get to that right now.

Number of Homeless Individuals in the United States – Estimates

Counting the homeless has always been quite a challenge, as the
following quote from a recent article attests to:

“''It's an impossible task,'' said Patrick Markee, senior policy
analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless. ''Whatever number you come
up with, it's going to be inaccurate.''”

City to Try Homeless Count Despite Attack on Accuracy 
New York Times; New York, N.Y.; Feb 21, 2003; Corey Kilgannon;

This same article reports that in New York, 38,400 people use the
city’s shelter system, a bare minimum estimate of the number of
homeless people in the city.

Our first estimate comes from the journal of Academic Emergency
Medicine and is a 2001 estimate (or, rather, a range):

“HOMELESSNESS remains a social disease of epidemic proportions. In the
United States, the homeless population is estimated to be between 4
and 13.5 million persons, and 7.5% of the general population will
become homeless at some point in their lifetimes.'”

The epidemiology of the homeless population and its impact on an urban
emergency department
Academic Emergency Medicine; Philadelphia; Nov 2001; Jason D'Amore;
Oliver Hung; William Chiang; Lewis Goldfrank

Another research article provides quite a different estimate, however,
this one is for 1995 –

“The model starts with the US general population in 1995 and a
theoretical cohort of 2 million homeless individuals. Research shows
that millions of Americans experience homelessness, yet most do not
remain chronically homeless.”

Strategies to decrease tuberculosis in US homeless populations: A
computer simulation model; JAMA; Chicago; Aug 15, 2001; Timothy F
Brewer; S Jody Heymann; Susan M Krumplitsch; Mary E Wilson; et al;

In 2000 the Christian Science Monitor released the following

“Several studies over the past year have indicated the number of
people needing shelter was on the rise. On Feb. 1, the Urban Institute
released a national analysis of census data showing those increases
are apparently part of a long-term trend. In 1987, the government
estimated as many as 500,000 to 600,000 homeless people used shelter
services at any one time during the year. In 1996, that estimate
jumped to as high as 842,000 people, even as the economy surged ahead.

"Close to 10 percent of poor people in this country become homeless at
some time during the year," says Martha Burt of the Urban Institute”

Hot economy, but more homeless Ranks of homeless increased as much as
10 percent over last year in Christian Science Monitor; Boston, Mass.;
Feb 2, 2000; Alexandra Marks, Staff writer of The Christian Science

A concurrent USA Today article offers more concrete numbers:

“One in every 100 Americans go homeless at some point during a year,
nearly double the number from a decade ago, a study estimates.
From 2.3 million to 3.5 million people were homeless at least once
during 1996, the most recent year for which data are available. That
compares with 1.4 million-1.8 million in 1987, researchers said.
The number who are homeless at any moment ranges from 444,000 to
842,000, depending on the time of year, the study estimates. In 1987,
the range was 500,000 to 600,000.”

Study finds large increase in extent of homelessness 
USA Today; Arlington; Feb 2, 2000; Richard Wolf;

The most reliable numbers come from the Urban Institute, whose data
was used to come up with the USA Today and Christian Science Monitor
estimates – according to the Urban Institute:

“Institute researcher Martha Burt, a leading expert on homelessness in
America, presented her analysis of the most recent national survey of
programs and services for the homeless. Burt estimates that at least
2.3 million people experience homelessness at some point each year,
including nearly 1 million children. She stressed that those numbers
are far higher than estimates from a previous national survey taken a
decade earlier, but pointed out that services for the homeless have
dramatically increased during the same period.”

Excellent presentation based on the most recent data is available here

Earlier estimates are as follows –

“"Total estimated homeless population in the U.S.":

"Homelessness in America," (edited by Jim Baumohol for the National
Coalition for the Homeless, 1996) gives the following as the three
Commonly cited estimates for the number of homeless people in the U.S.
at a single point in time:

* 250,000-350,000 (1-day estimate by HUD, 1984; based on projection of
expert opinion in 60 randomly selected geographical areas)

* 500,000-600,000 (1-week estimate by the Urban Institute, 1987; based
on projected results from systematic random sample of homeless people
in cities over 100,000 population)

* 2 million-3 million (1-day guess by Mitch Snyder, activist, 1983; no
known statistical basis)

Number of non-profits working with the homeless in the United States

The most reliable source of data for this issue seems to be –
“The 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients

Or –

According to this survey:

+ There were almost *** 40,000 *** homeless assistance programs in
operation in 1996
+ Faith-based non-profits run about a third of all programs, including
the majority of all food programs and one-quarter of all shelters and
drop-in centers. Secular non-profits run almost half of all homeless
assistance programs administering the majority of housing programs and
almost 40 percent of all health programs.

Combining these estimates (1/3 + ) – it would seem that about 85%, or
approximately 34,000 of these programs are non-profits.  I imagine
that the majority of these are very small organizations, e.g. a
church-based soup kitchen etc.

The full report in .pdf format is available at –

Federal Government Spending Since 1985

First, it seems that funding for the homeless only began in 1987 – 

“The McKinney-Vento
Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 marked
the first federal legislation to address
homelessness by providing funding for
shelters and supportive housing.”  (p. 24)

Historical Tables of the Federal Budget are available at –

The following data was extracted from the above report.

There are three budget line items that include assistance to the
homeless –
1.	Supplemental assistance for facilities for the homeless
2.	Homeless assistance grants
3.	Innovative Homeless Initiatives Demonstration Program

Year by year breakdown of spending on each line item is as follows
(all in $millions):

Supplemental assistance for facilities for the homeless: (total $46
1988 – 3
1989 – 6
1990 – 3
1991 – 4
1992 – 3
1993 – 5
1994 – 7
1995 – 8
1996 – 5
1997 - 2

This line item was discontinued in 1998.

Homeless assistance grants: (total $4,492 million)
1995 – 12
1996 – 186
1997 – 319
1998 – 463
1999 – 643
2000 – 885
2001 – 965
2002 – 1,019

Innovative Homeless Initiatives Demonstration Program: (total
1994 – 4
1995 – 17
1996 – 20
1997 – 21
1998 – 19
1999 – 9

Discontinued in 1999.

Total historical federal spending on the homeless from 1985 (1988)
through 2002 is therefore the sum of all of the above, and equals
$4,628 million (Four billion and six hundred and twenty eight million

I hope this response adequately addresses your request.  Please let me
know if you are in need of additional information concerning this


Search Strategy:

Homeless and Statistics
"federal spending on the homeless"
"the urban institute"
"federal budget" "homeless assistance" 1985 1990 1995 2000 .gov
"federal spending" homeless 1985 1990 1995 2000
"federal spending" homeless 1985 1990

Request for Answer Clarification by imaginethat-ga on 21 May 2003 19:05 PDT

Request for Answer Clarification by imaginethat-ga on 21 May 2003 19:06 PDT

Request for Answer Clarification by imaginethat-ga on 21 May 2003 19:09 PDT
Your research has been invaluable to me as a basis for my resesarch. 
After reviewing it, may I ask for clarification on certain data?

Clarification of Answer by ragingacademic-ga on 21 May 2003 20:30 PDT
imaginethat -

Glad to hear my work has helped your own research efforts.
If you have questions, post them as "requests for clarification" - I
will be alerted by email and will respond as quickly as possible.

Would be glad to entertain additional questions if you're ever in need
- if you would like me to work on your future questions, please
address them to me in the subject line, e.g. "More questions on the
homeless (for ragingacademic-ga)".

Thanks for the rating!!

imaginethat-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
ragingacademic is not only thorough, but insightful as well.  He/she
took a set of questions on a complex and challenging issue and
synthesized reasearch to provide me with answers to begin my own
research.  GREAT FIND!!!  The only question that remains is:  How do I
request ragingacademic each time I require research?

Subject: Re: "homelessness in the USA"
From: neilzero-ga on 20 May 2003 06:49 PDT
By definition, a homeless person has no address, and rarely has a cell
phone. A fake name and ID is common. The small percentage that can be
tracked, would be atypical. Generally private charities care for
homeless. The federal government rarely gets envolved, but some funds
trickle down to local governments and private charities. Some of the
people using these facilities have a home somewhere, but are not
admitting it. Often the aid is given no questions asked.  Neil
Subject: Re: "homelessness in the USA"
From: ragingacademic-ga on 21 May 2003 10:09 PDT
neilzero -

Based on my reply above - do you realize now how important it is to
conduct serious research prior to posting a comment?


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