Most homeless try to better themselves Study blames economics over substance abuse.

February 11, 1992|By Jay Merwin

A new study by advocates for homeless people portrays many of those in shelters as regularly searching for jobs and housing, with about half of them suffering from economic problems rather than drug or alcohol abuse.

Most homeless people are "engaged in productive activities trying to improve their situation," said Norma T. Pinette, director of Action for the Homeless, which today released the study with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

Dr. Anne B. Shlay of the Institute, who carried out the research, acknowledged, however, that substance abuse can be linked to other causes of homelessness, such as low income, lack of affordable housing, evictions and domestic problems.

The homeless advocates plan to use their findings in lobbying for higher taxes to support expanded programs for stable housing. They plan to rally in Annapolis tomorrow night.

The study of the demographics of homeless people was conducted among shelter providers throughout the state, with 117 of 159 providers participating. It covers 2,903 homeless people who were staying in those shelters -- both emergency and long-term facilities -- during the week of Sept. 22 to 28, when the survey was taken.

Among the key findings:

* People living in shelters are working at changing their circumstances. Of the adults, 34 percent said their main activities were looking for housing, while 13 percent listed looking for jobs; 18 percent were employed; 8 percent were getting education; 2 percent were in job training, and 11 percent were in drug treatment or in drug and alcohol support groups.

* Most of those in shelters have insufficient incomes. Of the adults surveyed, 18 percent were working and 37 percent were on public assistance, with a few more receiving other kinds of government benefits. But 13 percent had no income.

* Economic factors were found to be the main reasons for homelessness, as determined by shelter providers sifting through a variety of responses. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed were unable to find affordable housing, 12 percent had low incomes, 9 percent were unemployed and 3 percent were underemployed. Other major reasons included drug or alcohol dependency, 13 percent; evictions, 11 percent; domestic abuse, 9 percent; mental illness, 9 percent, and family break-up, 3 percent.

* Children who have come with their families make up 33 percent of shelter dwellers, although single men remain the largest group of homeless people -- 36 percent.

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