The Public Interest

The homeless families of New York

Thomas J. Main

Fall 1986

WE KNOW that there are different kinds of homeless individuals: street people (both men and women); the mentally ill; the otherwise disabled; battered wives; runaway children; and so on. But homeless families are a relatively new phenomenon. While homeless individuals, especially the deinstitutionalized and mentally ill, have been the subject of public and scholarly notice since the early 1970s, little research has been done on homeless families. Indeed, even such essential facts as the number and origin of homeless families are not widely known. The information that has been available is often limited and contradictory. This article will attempt to clarify the basic facts surrounding homeless families in order to evaluate the problem and assess the current shelter policy designed to cope with it. This discussion will deal primarily with New York City, since that is where most of the available hard data come from.

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