Monday, 20 December 2010

Homeless in California

I found this youtube clip quite distressing. It is an interview of a young homeless man in California.

Estimates for the number of homeless in America vary depending on whether the measure is taken on a single night or covers an entire year.

Using the "single night" methodology, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report estimated that on a single night in January 2008, there were 664,414 homeless people. About 6 out of 10 were in some kind of homeless shelter; the remaining 4 out of 10 were living in the street or in another place "not intended for human habitation".  About three-fifths of the homeless on a single night were homeless as individuals (62 percent), while two-fifths (38 percent) were homeless as part of a family.

Using the "in a single year" approach, about 1.6 million persons used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program during the 12-month period between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. This number suggests that roughly 1 in every 190 persons in America used the shelter system at some point during the year. Around a third are homeless within a family unit, with a million being recorded as "homeless individuals".

Since then, things could have only got worse....

It is tempting to fall back on stereotyping the homeless and placing the blame on the individual weakness, such drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness. However, here is a study, written in 2001, about the rise of the homeless in California. The paper concludes that it was largely housing affordability that explained the huge increase in homelessness:

Here is how the abstract of the paper put it......

It is generally believed that the increased incidence of homelessness in the United States has arisen from broad societal factors, such as changes in the institutionalization of the mentally ill, increases in drug addiction and alcohol usage, and so forth.

This paper presents a comprehensive test of the alternate hypothesis that variations in homelessness arise from changed circumstances in the housing market and in the income distribution. We assemble essentially all the systematic information available on homelessness in U.S. urban areas: census counts, shelter bed counts, records of transfer payments, and administrative agency estimates. We estimate similar statistical models using four different samples of data on the incidence of homelessness , defined according to very different criteria.

Our results suggest that simple economic principles governing the availability and pricing of housing and the growth in demand for the lowest-quality housing explain a large portion of the variation in homelessness among U.S. metropolitan housing markets. Furthermore, rather modest improvements in the affordability of rental housing or its availability can substantially reduce the incidence of homelessness in the United States.

This is shocking stuff for the richest country in the world; an army of homeless people, who for most part, are out on the street due to a dysfunctional housing market and stagnant real wages.


Anonymous said...

An english lit degree?

dearieme said...

"the availability and pricing of housing and the growth in demand for the lowest-quality housing...": armies of illegal Latin American immigrants would tend to lead to that result.

Anonymous said...

Am not Asian but have often heard their comments on the elderly being left to live and die alone. Family and community neglect and lack of self respect is mentioned as they shake their heads sadly.

Here the young guy blames it on the economy but there was no one there for him at key times. My guess is that the Spanish have far higher youth unemployment and far lower youth homelessness because of their family cohesion.

In the past I have taken a guy into my home who was on the edge of rough sleeping. It is fraught with challenges and these days being married with small kids is a different context.

Techno Mystic said...

Interesting from Anonymous @17:27. I wanted to stay with my mother when I was younger but she insisted that I had to leave. But the "get out into the world and make it" mentality maybe why the UK and USA ended up being wealthy countries, and India did not. India has more than its fair share of poverty and beggars.

Italians are also known for their close families, but they are also known for their political corruption and organised crime.

It seems odd that his family would not take a 23 year old back in. He says he has no parents, but didn't elaborate on what that actually means.

Hamish said...

People are far too quick to blame drugs and alcohol for rampant homelessness. These addictions have a role to play but the lack of affordable housing must be the key driver. Even spaced out druggy would prefer to live in a house rather than street.