Ending Chronic Homelessness: Strategies for Action. Background

03/01/2003

Each year, approximately one percent of the U.S. population, some two to three million individuals, experiences a night of homelessness that puts them in contact with a homeless assistance provider. The estimate is conservative — it does not include those affected by natural disasters, nor those who do not contact a homeless assistance provider, e.g., who may be taken in by a friend or spend the night in a car.

The circumstances that cause homelessness for two to three million Americans are varied. However, research conducted since the late 1980's shows that interactions among the supply of affordable housing, poverty, and disability account for most of the precipitating factors. Among poor persons, the risk of a night of homelessness is far higher than for the general population. Somewhere between four to six percent of the poor experience homelessness annually. Most of these experiences are short-term and the individuals exit homelessness with minimal assistance and generally are not seen again.

But the subgroup that tends to be the most visible is a group of about 200,000 people who experience homelessness on a protracted or repeated basis. On any given night, this group will represent almost half of those who are homeless. This subgroup has been identified as the chronically or long term homeless. There is increasing consensus that we can take actions that will reduce and end this level of chronic homelessness.

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