Urban Research Monitor
Homeless Services and Their Clients

The 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients is based on a statistical sample of 76 localities-large cities, small cities, and rural areas. The study was designed and funded by 12 federal agencies in a collaborative venture under the Interagency Council on the Homeless, a working group of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The survey does not provide a national count of the homeless population, but it does provide up-to-date information about the providers of assistance to homeless people and those who use these services. Study highlights include:

  • An estimated 40,000 homeless assistance programs operate in the United States, with about 21,000 service locations.

  • Food pantries are the most common, with about 9,000 programs. Emergency shelters are next, with about 5,700 programs. There are about 4,400 transitional housing programs, 3,500 soup kitchens and other food distribution programs, 3,300 outreach programs, and 3,100 voucher distribution programs.

  • Homeless clients are predominantly male (68 percent) and nonwhite (53 percent). Large proportions are also never married (48 percent) and poorly educated (38 percent have less than a high school diploma).

  • Adequate food is a problem for the homeless: 58 percent reported having difficulty getting enough to eat within the month preceding the survey.

  • Alcohol problems during the past month are reported by 38 percent of homeless clients, drug problems by 26 percent, and mental health problems by 39 percent.

  • Some homeless people are employed: 44 percent of homeless clients worked for pay during the last month, but less than half had a job they expected to last 3 months or more.

  • This was the first bout of homelessness for almost half (49 percent) of the clients interviewed, but 22 percent had been homeless four or more times.

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