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Poverty's Most Dreaded Consequence

Written by Featured Organization on 27 January 2011.

Even though the Great Recession has officially ended, the continuing high mass unemployment has led to a small but growing increase in homelessness, particularly of families. This development is a change from the pattern of the past in which the homeless population was more likely to be comprised of people individuals with significant drug or alcohol abuse problems, or those with significant mental health problems, or those who had been mired in poverty.

Now, the percentage of families new to homelessness has outstripped that of individuals who have become newly homeless, according to a report, "States of Homelessness in America," released this month by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Homelessness Research Institute.

The numbers involved are as yet relatively small. The overall national homeless population of 656,129 increased by three percent, and the number of families within that group increased by four percent, or 3,200 families. But, 31 states and the District of Columbia experienced increases in their homeless populations. Further, the report said widespread agreement exists that there is a "vast undercount" of homeless youth who are not attached to a family unit. And finally, the report covers only the period from 2008 to 2009, meaning that the data on the year from 2009 to 2010 has yet to be tabulated.

That was the harshest year of the Great Recession, when the accumulating mass layoffs produced significant increases in both the total number of Americans in poverty – it soared by four million to 43.6 million — and in the growth of individuals and families living in poverty in suburbia.

Those two developments alone mean there has likely been a further substantial increase in homelessness in the last year as well.

For example, according to figures compiled separately by New York City officials and homeless advocates, the number of people living on the streets and in the subways skyrocketed by 34 percent from 2009 to 2010 – a sharp reversal of the declines that had occurred in recent years. City officials attributed the surge to the national economic crisis.

Its authors conclude that the report's findings "project a disquieting picture of what depressed wages, stagnant unemployment, [an] unrelenting housing cost burden, and the lagging pace of economic recovery [has produced]: increased homelessness and heightened risk of homelessness for more and more Americans." They urge that a more strategic use of government and private-sector resources and funds must be devised in order to stem the growth of homelessness.

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