Do America’s Homeless Still Have a Chance to ‘Dream’?

Twenty in every 10,000 people in the United States on any given night are not realizing their American Dream. The latest tally by the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported in April 2013 that 633,782 people were homeless somewhere in this country on a selected night in January 2012.

On the positive side, that is a 0.4 percent overall decrease from the previous year (or 2,235 less people in the homeless population). However, credit for the decline is limited to two factors: a 7 percent decrease in the number of individuals identified as chronically homeless and a similar decrease in the number of homeless veterans. That leaves all the other homeless individuals and single parents with children out in the cold.

In its latest report titled The State of Homelessness in America 2013, researchers from the Alliance use point-in-time estimates every January to record the number of people sleeping in emergency shelters and transitional housing on a given night. The number of people sleeping on the streets, in abandoned properties, or in “other places not meant for human habitation” are tallied as well by volunteers and outreach workers.

For the nation as a whole, the report notes that overall homelessness was down 0.34 in 2012 compared to 2011. A total 28 states and the District of Columbia reported increases in homelessness, while the other 22 states reported decreasing homelessness.

These figures come at a time when the American Dream of homeownership has also diminished over the past few years due in large part to the nation’s economic meltdown and the resulting bubble burst from an overheated housing market. For the first quarter of 2013, the U.S. homeownership rate was 65 percent, down substantially from its peak of 69.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

And as RealtyTrac recently reported, the level of foreclosure activity nationwide has significantly dropped off from its peak in March 2010, leaving fewer bank-owned properties and short sales in an already shrunken U.S. housing inventory.

Still, in many areas of the country there are countless numbers of properties foreclosed by banks that are sitting vacant and deteriorating. The U.S. Census Bureau reported for the first quarter of 2013 a total 14 million housing units nationwide were sitting vacant year-round from an overall housing stock of 133 million housing units. That’s 10.7 percent of the nation’s housing stock that is sitting unproductive.

All these factors are culminating into an economic environment around the country where the homeless, sometimes with the help of others, are taking creative and even desperate steps to find a solution to an otherwise hopeless situation.

Like the Minneapolis woman, who last December decided to move into a vacant home with her four girls. The home had been repossessed by Wells Fargo Bank after a sheriff’s sale. The woman posted a public notice on the front door that she is living in the home. She still lives there, having started to renovate it while attempting to remain in possession with help from members of Occupy Homes MN, reported KARE11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.   

So there is this imbalance of 14 million properties that are sitting vacant year-round, while 633,000 people (one-half of 1 percent of all the vacant properties in this country) are sleeping somewhere that is at best temporary housing, and at worse somewhere supposedly not legally fit for habitation like the woman in Minneapolis.

And the question that rings out is, “why can’t some of this vacant housing be used as homeless shelters” or donated to organizations that help the homeless?

In the meantime, the National Association of Realtors, Case-Shiller, and other industry analysts keep reporting that home prices are rising at double-digit rates in many markets. Although home sales are up on a year-over-year basis, available inventory for sale has a stranglehold on it.

It seems like there is enough vacant properties around to satisfy everyone’s needs. It sounds like someone needs to get creative besides the people living on the streets and in homeless shelters.

Check out other stories in the RealtyTrac newsroom:
Who Stole the American Dream?
Where Are The Real Estate Buyers?
25 Markets Where Flipping Homes Is Most Profitable

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