How many people are homeless in the United States?
Recent estimates put the number of homeless in the United States at around half a million people on any single night. In 2016, 1.4 million people stayed in a homeless shelter or transitional housing program for at least one night during the year.
Around 65 percent of the homeless them are estimated to be “sheltered homeless,” meaning they are staying in housing meant for human habitation such as homeless shelters.
The other 35 percent are “unsheltered homeless” and spend the night in areas not fit for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, or abandoned buildings.
What factors explain the variation in homelessness rates across the United States?
There are many factors that explain the variation of homelessness rates throughout the United States. The Council of Economic Advisers identifies four of them, although it is not an exclusive list.
First, individual factors such as chronic health conditions, whether they are physical or mental, affect rates of homelessness.
Second, the high cost of housing in certain areas precludes the availability of housing. This factor is often explained by overregulation of housing markets.
Third, weather and the tolerability of sleeping on the street or outside of a shelter explains a portion of the homeless population.
Finally, the available supply of substitutes for traditional housing (i.e., homeless shelters) can have an effect on the level of homelessness in a city.
To learn more, read “The State of Homelessness in America.”
How would the “group quarters” idea work in practice?
The “group quarters” or “adult foster care” program relies on the use of boarding houses for five to six persons, whether singles or families, with one or another extent of nursing care. For the most severe cases of mental disability and drug addiction, foster care could be provided in group homes, rented or newly mortgaged, and supervised by the outside caregivers. Caregivers would receive basic training and earn state licenses. The foster care fees would be differential, negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the paying agencies, depending on the difficulty of specific cases and the quality of housing and caregivers. This outsourcing of the welfare state matches government contracts with the private supply of services at the market price.
Funding would come from rechanneling the existing public funding from a panoply of programs, agencies, and nonprofits to private-market caregivers. They would house the homeless in existing homes and newly acquired private residences, with government fees financing private mortgages.
This program could be rolled out on a trial basis in any number of cities, with any number of initial caregivers to test its efficacy.
For more, read “A New Approach: Adult Foster Care for the Homeless” by Michael S. Bernstam, available here.