Homelessness:

A Complex Problem and the Federal Response

HRD-85-40: Published: Apr 9, 1985. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO identified trends in poverty for the homeless population, factors affecting these trends, and federal programs providing services to the homeless.

GAO found that homelessness was increasing, and service providers have increased their services in response to the increased need for food and shelter. Since 1980, the number of shelters for the homeless has increased by 66 percent nationally. More mentally ill, minorities, women, children, and youth in their mid-30's are now among the homeless. Factors which have contributed to the rise in homelessness have included increased unemployment, the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill persons, increases in personal crises, cuts in public assistance programs, a decline in the low-income housing supply, and alcohol and drug abuse. Cities, counties, and volunteer organizations, with aid from the states and the federal government, have expanded the supply of shelter beds. Federal aid to state and local governments has come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Veterans Administration and ACTION. The Federal Interagency Task Force on Food and Shelter acts as a broker between the federal government and the private sector to identify available federal facilities or resources. However, long-term solutions are needed if the problems of homelessness are to be resolved.

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