Down and Out in America

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New research by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development paints a clearer picture of the homeless in America today. The National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, based on data collected in 1996, finds that families account for 15 percent of the homeless. Of those households, 84 percent are headed by a female parent and 43 percent are non-Hispanic blacks. Roughly 44 percent of all homeless people say they've done some type of paid work in the past month, and one out of five receives income from family members or friends. To see how life has changed for this segment of society, researchers compared results gathered in central-city shelters and soup kitchens to those from a similar study conducted by The Urban Institute in 1987. In comparison, today's homeless tend to be better educated (39 percent have finished high school versus 32 percent in 1987) and more likely to receive public benefits. Thirty-seven percent say they use food stamps, compared to just 18 percent in 1987.

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