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The number of homeless families who spend some time in a shelter increased by 9 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual report on homelessness. The report, released last week, also showed significant increases in homelessness in suburban and rural areas.

The overall number of homeless people that spend some time in a shelter has changed very little since 2007, but the report identified important differences among homeless families and individuals. Families living in shelters are most likely to be headed by a single woman under the age of 30, whereas individuals in shelters are most likely to be disabled men between the ages of 31 and 50. Whites are also more likely to experience homelessness individually, whereas minorities are more likely to enter homeless shelters accompanied by family members.

The report also found that 42 percent of homeless people at any given point in time are ‘unsheltered on the street or in other places not meant for human habitation.’
The report reflects some of the toll that the housing crisis and the economic recession have taken on American families. However, because the report doesn’t include data after September 2008 when the economic downturn worsened, the recession’s impact on homelessness may be even greater than the report suggests. HUD began monitoring homelessness on a quarterly basis this year in order to further explore the effects of the financial crisis.

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