How Many People are Homeless? Essay

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How Many People are Homeless?

Many people call the National Coalition for the Homeless to find out how many people are homeless in the United States. There is no easy answer to this question, and in fact, the question itself is misleading. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance -- not a permanent condition. A more appropriate measure of the magnitude of homelessness is therefore how many people experience homelessness, not how many people "are" homeless.

Studies of homelessness are complicated by problems of definitions and methodology. This fact sheet describes definitions of homelessness, methodologies for counting homeless people, and recent estimates of homelessness. Additional resources for further study are
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As a result of these and other factors, many people who lack permanent housing are forced to live with relatives and friends in crowded, temporary arrangements. People living in unstable housing arrangements who lack a permanent place to stay are experiencing a kind of homelessness, but because they are not "literally homeless," they will not be counted.

METHODOLOGY

Researchers use different methods to measure homelessness. One method attempts to count all the people who are literally homeless on a given day or during a given week (point-in-time counts). A second method of counting homeless people examines the number of people who are homeless over a given period of time (period prevalence counts).

Choosing between point-in-time counts and period-prevalence counts has significant implications for understanding the magnitude and dynamics of homelessness. The high turnover in the homeless population documented by recent studies (see below) suggests that many more people experience homelessness than previously thought, and that most of these people do not remain homeless. Because point-in-time studies give just a "snapshot" picture of homelessness, they only count those who are homeless at a particular time. Over time, however, some people will find housing and escape homelessness while new people will lose housing and become homeless. Systemic social and economic factors (prolonged unemployment or sudden loss of a job, lack of
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