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Black men comprise large percentage of nearly 800,000 homeless in America

April 4, 2007 by  
Filed under Health

( In an unprecedented new study, an estimated 754,000 people are homeless across the United States-and many of them are black, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We find most of these homeless people are men and, disproportionately, a large amount are black,” Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD, told

The new HUD study showed that 65 percent of homeless adults are male, and 45 percent of those sheltered homeless people are African-Americans. Today, a visual face on homelessness in America is this: A black man, around 40 years old, living in a large, urban city.

HUD officials said they surveyed more than 3,800 cities and counties, marking the first time a national study attempts to pinpoint an exact number of homeless people.

The innovative new system, titled the Homeless Management Information Systems, quantifies an accurate amount of people based on current trends and prospective numbers, officials said. These reports tell the authorities, advocacy groups and the general public a lot about the current state of this country.

“The report is a powerful tool to help all of us at the federal, state and local level design more effective responses to homelessness and better help those who are living in shelters and on our streets”, Alphonso Jackson, secretary of HUD, said in a statement.

Tom Hohman, a managing director at Bethesda Cares, Inc., a nonprofit homeless shelter in Maryland, told that HUD’s figures may underestimate the nation’s homeless population, but they’re close.

“There are 1,600 homeless people in Montgomery County alone, and this is an affluent community,” Hohman said in an interview. “There’s probably more [homeless in the U.S.], because sometimes they show up here and come from out of the woods, abandoned apartment complexes, and other places,” he said.

In Maryland, Hohman said, his agency does what it can with the resources provided.

“We serve lunch to 45 to 50 people a day,” he said. “We have a clothing shelter for them to get clothes. We also have two ladies that give people help with anything from finding a home to getting their visas. We help with all sorts of problems they face.”

Sullivan said the HUD study is groundbreaking.

“This study is the first of its kind,” Sullivan said in an interview. “It allows us to have a critical starting point in understanding where we go from here. It answers core questions about how many homeless people there are, who they are. Is it situation temporary or situational? Do they have a chronic condition?”

Many get confused at what constitutes homelessness, officials said. HUD goes by the law, which requires a literal meaning of “homeless.” The technical definition is an individual who lacks primary nighttime residence, but Sullivan said a person living in “shelters, streets, or places they ought not to be” should also be considered homeless.

Other critical issues being studied are the factors that lead people into homelessness. Schizophrenia, which tops the list of chronic conditions homeless people face, affects approximately 200,000 people, according to a 2003 study by the Department of Health and Human Services. In large metropolitan cities, these individuals are regarded as “part of the urban landscape”, not getting the proper care, the study said.

Homeless brutality is also an ongoing concern, officials said. Reports from the National Coalition for the Homeless showed 122 attacks last year and least 20 murders.

One of the most brutal attacks was in Fort Lauderdale Florida, where two teenagers killed a homeless man, while he was sleeping. Norris Gaynor, a struggling artist and brother of a county school board member, was beaten to death with baseball bats until he was unrecognizable. Unfortunately, this is just one reported case of homeless brutality in the many that go unseen.

Hohman also thinks that HUD can “absolutely” do more to help the homeless get on their feet again.

“They could help more by maybe allotting vouchers for a home or food to the homeless. That would really help,” Hohman said.

Meanwhile, HUD is focusing on finding the exact numbers of homeless people to help develop realistic solutions to address the problem, but HUD officials say anyone can help.

Sullivan says it’s easy for those interested in lending a hand to prevent the increase in homeless rates and brutality by visiting

“Click on it and read everything,” Sullivan said. “From volunteering, to donating, to working with us, they can find all the information they need to help.”

By Danielle Kwateng

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