In an earlier article I wrote briefly about homelessness, and stated that a primary cause was mental illness, followed by substance abuse. I would like to clarify and elaborate on that, give some cites (and sites) for more information, and posit a possible solution.
I started my recent reading using the Wikipedia article on homelessness in the US. A word about Wiki articles: some of you don’t trust Wikipedia, and you are right to be suspicious but there is frequently good information to be found there. I have been using it for basic research for many years and found that it is mostly reliable. The best articles will be lengthy and detailed, have extensive references, and plenty of external links. At the least, it is a good place to start for a basic understanding of a topic. I followed several of the internal and external links to find more information, and also checked many of the references to satisfy myself that the information presented was good. I think that it is, but caveat emptor.
The actual numbers of homeless are hard to quantify, since there is no national effort to do so, only the collation of local and/or state reports. Most large cities have a fair estimate of those using shelters, but the numbers for those not using government or charity shelters is at best a guess, and in small towns and rural areas it is worse than a guess. Lest you think that Congress is not in this loop, here is the annual report to them for 2011.
This article has a description of the methodology used in estimates of homelessness and some statistics from 2008 estimates. Even in that year the numbers were ugly. Over 600,000 people were estimated to be in shelters on a single night in January 2008, which is about twice the population of my home town.
Here is an article about criminalizing homelessness and the source of the statement that the UN was concerned about safe drinking water in our homeless population. I have wondered in the past why so much advertising money is spent on charities to provide food, water, and shelter for foreign children (Please help. For only $0.23 per day you can help), when we have adults and children in our own country who have those same needs. The cynic in me believes that most charities are scams to provide money to the organizers, but realistically, I know that some of them probably do some good. As Thomas Fuller said, "Charity begins at home, but should not end there."