Re: Homeless Are Impoverished and Ill, Survey Finds

Sandy Andrews (
Wed, 08 Dec 1999 08:34:35 -0700 (MST)

There are some frustrating things about this article. One is that 12,000 
service providers but only 4,000 homeless clients were interviewed. 
Another is that the study is actually set up to serve the needs of the 
providers: it is from the survey of providers that the conclusion is 
drawn that people moved to permanent housing "when they received the 
services they needed, including housing subsidies, health care, 
substance-abuse treatment, education and job training." I would like to 
see the study itself & see if I came to the same conclusions as the 
writer of the article.


On Wed, 8 Dec 1999, Graeme Bacque wrote:

> December 8, 1999
> Homeless Are Impoverished and Ill,
> Survey Finds
> By NINA BERNSTEIN  The New York Times
> A sweeping national study of homeless people served by shelters,
> soup kitchens and other programs has found that almost half were
> on their first episode of homelessness, 44 percent had worked at least
> part time in the previous month and 42 percent said that what they
> needed more than anything was help finding a job. 
> But the study, being released today and based on Census Bureau surveys
> in 1995 and 1996 and the most comprehensive study of homelessness
> ever, also found that over all, the homeless were deeply impoverished
> and most were ill. Two-thirds 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. 
> "This is a definitive description of what we're dealing with when we
> talk
> about the quote, unquote, homeless," Andrew M. Cuomo, secretary of
> Housing and Urban Development, said yesterday in discussing the study,
> which was based on interviews with 12,000 service providers and 4,000
> homeless clients. 
> "There is no simple solution." 
> Despite their handicaps, 60 percent of the homeless living alone and 76
> percent of those living in families successfully left shelters for
> permanent
> housing when they received the services they needed, including housing
> subsidies, health care, substance-abuse treatment, education and job
> training, according to the study's surveys of representatives of about
> 40,000 programs that serve the homeless nationwide. 
> While the study did not offer an estimate of the overall homeless
> population, its 600 pages of statistics included figures showing that an
> estimated 470,000 homeless people sheltereid on an average night in
> February 1996 were only a quarter of the people who were homeless at
> any one time during the year. 
> The previous national survey, done in 1987, estimated the number of
> homeless people, including those in the streets, at 500,000 to 600,000
> on any night. 
> The study took three years to complete because it required the
> collection
> and analysis of an extraordinary amount of data and involved 12 federal
> agencies, officials said. 
> Experts on homelessness, including Martha Burt, the director of social
> service research at the Urban Institute, which prepared the report to be
> released by housing department today, cautioned that like any
> point-in-time snapshot this survey over-represented the more chronically
> homeless, who were more likely to be mentally ill or addicted to drugs,
> and under-represented the people who became homeless sporadically
> for economic reasons. 
> "They are bookends," Cuomo agreed. "You have a pent-up need for
> affordable housing and you have populations with underlying problems.
> They are both driving the system." 
> At a time when cities are using law enforcement to try to move homeless
> people out of public places, Cuomo added, the study underlines that
> punitive ordinances and police crackdowns will not work. 
> "You need outreach to get people off the street -- not a police officer
> with handcuffs," he said. "You need transitional services as a second
> step, and then by definition you need the third step, which is permanent
> housing." 
> Among the surprises in the study was that while New York, Los Angeles
> and other larger cities provided the most beds for the homeless, they
> helped a smaller portion of their poor residents than some smaller
> cities
> like Minneapolis, San Francisco and St. Louis. 
> Despite the booming economy, Ms. Burt said, there is no reason to
> believe the picture drawn by the study has changed significantly. The
> poverty rate remains almost the same, and other Housing Department
> studies show that rising rents and a steep decline in housing subsidies
> have left 5.3 million poor families in housing that was unaffordable or
> severely substandard, a record number. 
> "The economy is better but we are also cutting way back on the safety
> net," Ms. Burt said. "This is poverty-related as well as
> disability-related.
> Lots of people have problems; we have alcoholic senators -- they're not
> homeless." 
> Homeless people are among the poorest in the nation, with incomes
> averaging half the federal poverty level. Forty percent of those
> surveyed
> said they went without food one or more days in the previous month,
> compared with 3 percent of other poor Americans. Almost a third of
> homeless clients surveyed said they had slept on the streets or in other
> places not meant for habitation within the week before the survey. Yet,
> those in central cities were better off than their counterparts surveyed
> in
> 1987, mainly because they were more likely to have government benefits
> like public assistance and food stamps. 
> "The fact that most of these folks don't have Medicaid is a pretty
> damning statistic," said Dennis P. Culhane, a professor of social
> welfare
> policy at the University of Pennsylvania. 
> The rates of mental illness were unchanged since the 1987 survey, a
> fact,
> Culhane added, that suggests known solutions to the homelessness of the
> disabled -- treatment and supportive, permanent housing -- are not being
> fully used. 
> The survey shows the strengths of the expanded system of homeless
> services, largely provided by nonprofit and religious-based charities
> financed by the government, Culhane said, but also shows the limits of
> that approach. 
> Exploring the suspicion in many towns that the homeless come from
> somewhere else, the study found that 29 percent of homeless families and
> 46 percent of single homeless clients said they were not living in the
> same
> place where they became homeless. In all cases, Ms. Burt said, they had
> moved from a smaller to larger places. 
> Major reasons included the lack of jobs and affordable housing in the
> place they left, and the presence of relatives or friends and job
> possibilities in the city where they were interviewed, as well as the
> availability of shelters and other services. 
> Serious childhood traumas were common among the homeless people
> surveyed, the study found, with 25 percent reporting childhood abuse, 33
> percent having run away from home and 21 percent having experienced
> homelessness as children. 
> "I think what you also see in this report is the failure of our primary,
> early
> intervention system," Cuomo said. "You are creating tomorrow's
> homeless today."