Fifth Dimension

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Homelessnes in the United States: Demographics

Posted by fifthdimension on May 27, 2007

Traditional statistics reveal that it were single men who constitute an overwhelming majority of the homeless. In the 1980s there was a steep rise in the number of homeless families in certain parts of the United States; particularly in New York City. Most of the homeless families comprise of an unmarried mother and children. Teenagers and young adults, mostly runaways or street children represent a significant number of the homeless. A 1960 survey by Temple University of Philadelphia’s poor neighborhoods found that 75% of the homeless were over 45 years old, and 87% were white. In 1986, 86% were under age 45, and 87% were minorities.

Recent statistics show that an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year. Studies of skid row populations in the 1950s and 1960s (Bahr and Caplow 1974; Bogue 1963; Wiseman 1970) provided a different lens on homelessness. The situations they studied were different. These studies described a population, mostly of single men, who were housed, lived steadily in a particular part of a particular city, but lived by themselves. That is, they did not live with any family members although they clearly lived in hotel rooms with many other people on the same and adjacent floors. Very few men in these communities would have been classified as literally homeless by today’s formal government definition, yet they were considered homeless by the people who studied them. Even the U.S. Census Bureau, as late as the 1980 decennial census, identified people who lived by themselves and did not have a “usual home elsewhere” (i.e., with family) as “homeless.” This way of thinking about homelessness reflects a cultural expectation that the “normal” way to live is in a family, and that something is wrong when people live by themselves. “Home” in this usage implies people, not physical shelter. (Martha R. Burt, Laudan Y. Aron, Helping
America‘s Homeless, Chapter I)

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