Estimates on the number of homeless people in the United States vary widely according to the organization doing the estimating. They range from half a million to several million on any given night, including individual homeless people as well as homeless families. Some homeless people are able to find occasional shelter and even employment, while others live in a state of perpetual insecurity. Some profit from access to organizations and agencies designed to help them while others, particularly those who are mentally ill, fail to get the help they so urgently need.
Homelessness has increased steadily in the United States since about 1980 and has become a major national issue. With improvement and “gentrification” of inner-city neighborhoods, many homeless people are having a harder time finding affordable housing. In rural areas also, homelessness is on the rise, and the proportion of homeless families is increasing. Legislation on both the federal and local level has not been able to solve the problem. The great majority of efforts by private organizations and the government have had little effect, although there are organizations like Habitat for Humanity that have succeeded in helping homeless people one person at a time.
Homeless people do what they can to survive, sometimes peddling objects they find or frequently begging. Personal security is a major problem for the homeless, as is basic personal hygiene, the ability to keep and store food, and access to clean clothing. Discrimination also takes its toll, leaving the homeless less liable to avail themselves of public services, or even have a reliable address to give to agencies that can help them. As homelessness becomes a true lifestyle, if involuntary, the homeless find it increasingly difficult to find employment of even the simplest kind. Drugs, alcohol, violence, and crime also take their toll.
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