Since the late 1980s, poverty has also been linked to the state’s decreasing capacity to provide, to the majority of citizens, the minimum conditions for entry to the market. In the developed world, safety nets are failing some of the most vulnerable sections of society…
- In the United States, about 1.5/2.5 people per thousand population are absolutely or temporarily homeless, (i.e., users of public shelters). It is estimated that the homeless population reached 3.5 million, but about 7 million Americans have experienced homelessness, some for brief periods and some for years. They are highly concentrated in the largest cities and among some groups like Vietnam War veterans;
- the homeless population continues to rise nationwide: in 2004, the number of people seeking emergency food aid increased by 14% (compared to the previous year) while the number of people seeking emergency shelter aid increased by 6%; (1)
- according to a 2003 study of the US homeless population in 25 cities: 40% of homeless people are in homeless families; 23% of single homeless people have a mental illness; 30% rate of homeless adults are addicted to alcohol or drugs; and 17% of homeless people are employed; (2)
- the number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade; families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population; (1)
- the Urban Institute (2000) found that approximately 39% of the homeless population are children (equivalent to 1.35 million people). These proportions are likely to be higher in rural areas; (3)
- in 2003, the homeless population was 49% African-American, 35% Caucasian, 13% Hispanic, 2% Native American, and 1% Asian. Like the total US population, the ethnic makeup of homeless populations varies according to geographic location. For example, people experiencing homelessness in rural areas are much more likely to be white; homelessness among Native Americans and migrant workers is also largely a rural phenomenon, according to the US Department of Agriculture; (2)
- over the past decade Canada has experienced an unprecedented crisis of homelessness. Despite economic growth, the incomes of households have steadily eroded and more people are facing homelessness than ever before. About 5 people per thousand population use emergency shelters. Combined with census figures, these give national estimates of 130- 260,000 homeless people. The mayors of Canada’s ten largest cities have declared homelessness a ‘national disaster’ and in Toronto each year alone, approximately 30,000 individuals rely on shelters for the homeless;
- by 1993, the federal government was subsidizing 645,000 rental units across Canada in a wide variety of public housing, non-profit, co-operative and rent supplement units. However, in 1993 the federal government froze federal contributions to social housing (except for on-reserve Aboriginal housing), which resulted in an estimated reduction in spending from over 4% of GDP in the 1980s to under 3% in the late 1990s. This translated into a loss of approximately 325,000 assisted rental units across the country.
(1) US Conference of Mayors, Dec. 15, 2004, Online at: www.usmayors.org
(2) US Conference of Mayors, 2003.
(3) It is important to note that this study was based on a national survey of service providers. Since not all people experiencing homelessness utilise service providers, the actual numbers of people experiencing homelessness are likely higher than those found in the study.