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US Reports Chronic Homelessness Reduced in 2007

The U.S. government Tuesday [July 29] reported a reduction in the number of chronically homeless people during the last year. The announcement came as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual study on homelessness. Producer Zulima Palacio has the story, with Bill Rodgers narrating.

Steve Thomas is divorced, unemployed and homeless. He describes his current home. "This bench is the best that I happened to come across that nobody was laying on," Thomas said. "So, I put my things under this bench, and I lay right here. This was my home right here for about a year."

He lived on the streets of downtown Washington for five years. The government counts Thomas as one of tens of thousands of the chronically homeless. On one winter night last year, the population of those in shelters or without homes was estimated to be 671,000. Study authors say that is likely an underestimate, that the actual number could be two to three million.

The 2007 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 15 percent reduction in those who are chronically homeless, usually those who have had no home for more than a year.

Jill Khadduri was one of the main investigators. "1.6 million people were homeless and found shelter at some point," Khadduri said.

The study that ended in September of 2007 did not include most of those who have lost their homes due to foreclosure, a housing crisis which has deepened since the study.

Khadduri said 70 percent of the homeless live alone, not in families. Most are middle aged men and in a minority group. She said most are found in cities. "One of the most striking things about homelessness in America is that it is very much an urban phenomenon," she said.

The report also found that one in five homeless persons came from prison, and about 13 percent are veterans. Study co-author Dennis Culhane from the University of Pennsylvania says many struggle with other problems. "About 28 percent of the homeless population has a severe mental illness, and about 38 percent has a substance use disorder," Culhane said.

Steve Thomas is one of those. He says his addictions started when he was a teenager. "I became homeless basically because of my drug use," he said. "I was addicted to marijuana, cocaine, alcohol for some 40 years."

The Department of Housing and Urban Development credited most of the reduction in the number of homeless to government programs that include public housing.