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Freels, D. & Borgman, D. (1986). Homelessness. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.



  • There are between 350,000 and 3 million homeless Americans.
  • Surveys show that one third of the homeless is mentally ill.
  • The residential population of mental hospitals has dropped by almost a half a million since 1955.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2.4 million Americans should be classified as mentally ill. Of these, 1.5 million are out in the community.
  • Up to 65% of liberated patients are considered to be successfully adapting to life outside an institution.
  • Families comprise more than 20% of the homeless.
  • A 1984 New York City investigation revealed that half of the 20,000 homeless who sought shelter on an average night were families with small children.
  • In Boston in the summer of 1985, 90% of the families in shelters were headed by women—typically in their mid-20s. Two-thirds of their children were under five years of age. More than one half was black and two-thirds were either high school graduates or had an equivalency diploma.
  • In the summer of 1985, 20,000 kids between ages 14 and 21 roamed the streets of New York, according to an estimate of the Coalition for the Homeless, New York City.


  • The mentally ill compose large segment of the homeless.
  • Gentrification—the moving of the middle class and the rich back into the city—has inflated rents and prices, seizing housing from the urban poor.
  • Urban renewal and dislocation have destroyed many urban neighborhoods.
  • Alcoholism and drug addiction compound the large number of homeless.
  • Runaway children and youth comprise a growing number of those on the streets or living in "empties." They are easily involved in drug abuse and prostitution.
  • The growing number of battered wives and their small children swell the numbers of those seeking urban shelter.
  • Some small and even medium-sized cities refuse to care for the homeless fearing that such resources will draw undesirables. The homeless are forced to go to more generous cities—a burden for benefactors.
  • There is a significant outpouring of private and municipal benevolence in creating shelters and hot meals. A remarkable rise in volunteers is also noticed. Still, many homeless people die from exposure and malnutrition.


  1. America needs to determine how to take care of the mentally ill and destitute.
  2. Parents need to teach their children to respect and care for those in need.
  3. Youth workers should consider how a youth group or church might serve a local or downtown shelter.

Dave Freels and Dean Borgman cCYS