A serious social welfare policy issue faced; slowly declining, but continuing to sharply rise in larger cities is homelessness. More than 500,000 people were homeless in the United States at the end of last year, according to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite various public and private efforts to provide decent low-income housing and temporary shelter, including the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the National Coalition for the Homeless believes the number of homeless people in America continues to grow .52 Estimates of homelessness vary, in part, because the definition of what constitutes “homelessness” varies. The National Coalition for the Homeless uses a broad definition, claiming that people who live in unstable housing arrangements and lack a permanent place to stay are, in fact, experiencing homelessness. Although the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that as many as 2 million people experiencing homelessness during a given year in the United States, the National Coalition for the Homeless, because of the difficulty in counting the homeless, chooses to cite the shortage of available services for the homeless. According to the coalition, in 1998, 26% of requests for emergency shelter in 30 U.S. cities went unmet due to a lack of resources. What is more, another study showed that in 50 cities around the United States, the individual city’s official estimated number of homeless typically exceeded that city’s available number of shelter and transitional housing spaces. Rural areas of the U.S. generally have even fewer resources for the homeless. Thus, in a nation that has never adequately housed all of its people, homelessness continues to be a serious policy issue.
According to Homeless.org, a lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Recently, foreclosures have also increased the number of people who experience homeless. Homeless and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.