# We should give free money to the homeless

by Greg Bernhardt
Tags: free, homeless, money
Mentor
P: 21,886
 Quote by AlephZero There are references given for both numbers. If you want to be skeptical of the original sources, that's a different issue from just dismissing it as a "student essay".
mheslep has a good sense of smell. The number is accurate but for the wrong thing.

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/fact.../How_Many.html
It still isn't the original source of the number, but says this:
 Another approximation is from a study done by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty which states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007).
So 3.5M isn't the "homeless population" right now, it is the number that have at least one night of homelessness in a given year. If you want to know the homeless population on any given night, that number is a little further down:
 These numbers, based on findings from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Urban Institute and specifically the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers, draw their estimates from a study of service providers across the country at two different times of the year in 1996. They found that, on a given night in October, 444,000 people (in 346,000 households) experienced homelessness – which translates to 6.3% of the population of people living in poverty. On a given night in February, 842,000 (in 637,000 households) experienced homelessness...
So the number we're really looking for (albeit 10 years old) is about 650,000 at any one time. Now this poverty advocacy site prefers the 3.5M number:
 Many people call or write the National Coalition for the Homeless to ask about the number of homeless people in the United States. There is no easy answer to this question and, in fact, the question itself is misleading. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance -- not a permanent condition. A more appropriate measure of the magnitude of homelessness is the number of people who experience homelessness over time, not the number of "homeless people."
Whether that is more appropriate or not I leave to you, but clearly when playing whisper-down-the-lane, the number gets misinterpreted. That is a good reason why you shouldn't cite a student essay.

 One approximation of the annual number of homeless in America is from a study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which estimates between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experience homelessness.
By not providing the timeframe, our poor student was forced to guess...
Mentor
P: 21,886
 Quote by DrDu I really don't get your point. Based on some absolute definition like e.g. earning less than 1 Dollar a day, poor people in the EU would not only be poor but starving...
I think you're serious there, but no developed nation uses a $1 a day threshold for poverty so you are badly misunderstanding the issue. The US poverty threshold varies by family size, but for an individual is$11,500 per year in income (\$31.50 per day).
http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm

What an absolute poverty threshold does is tell you if a person is actually in need, which is what the word "poverty" means and a "poverty rate" or threshold should therefore tell you. The European way of measuring it only tells you where you are relative to your countrymen: it doesn't tell you if you are in need.

Worse, the way market economies work in reality causes the poverty rate using that measure to move in the wrong direction relative to the health of an economy: poverty rates go up when the economy is good and down when the economy is bad. The OECD is aware of this flaw and has started using the absolute scale (albeit at an arbitrary threshold) when that problem becomes most obvious:
 Measures of relative poverty refer to the current median income and are therefore difficult to interpret during recessions. In a situation where the incomes of all households fall but they fall by less at the bottom than at the middle, relative poverty will decline. Therefore, different more “absolute” poverty indices, linked to past living standards, are needed to complement the picture provided by relative income poverty. To address this issue, Figure 7 describes changes in poverty using an indicator which measures poverty against a benchmark “anchored” to half the median real incomes observed in 2005. Using this measure, recent increases in income poverty are much higher than suggested by “relative” income poverty.
http://www.oecd.org/social/soc/OECD2...Poverty-8p.pdf

They haven't gotten rid of their ridiculous way of measuring poverty yet, but they are making the mess worse by adding a second measure that contradicts the first. Making the mess worse highlights the problem so eventually I think this will work itself out.
 Quote by DrDu ...as prices are somehow proportional to the median income....
For a comparison between rich and poor countries that is true, but when tracking the income, poverty and prices of a particular rich country it is not. I checked a handful of OECD countries and only the US experienced any price reduction (and then only a pinch) during the recession:
http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=221#
 Mentor P: 5,301 Relative poverty is a very important measure. There have been a wealth of studies showing that relative poverty causes health problems, even amongst people of the same socioeconomic class working in the same places doing similar jobs. It's not just imagined out of thin air due to some European liberal ideology. It doesn't take much searching on pubmed or a similar site to find epidemiological studies into this, for example: http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/con.../1/78.full.pdf Just because absolute poverty has been almost eradicated in the western world doesn't mean we can sit back and declare everything is fine. The fact remains that the poorer classes in society face significant bigger health problems (amongst others but health is the area I have encountered most research on) than those above. Unless you believe that whether or not one is poor or rich is purely down to personal choice I can't see why anyone would be opposed to policies aimed at measuring and addressing this.
PF Gold
P: 4,152
Richard Wilkinson is well known for his research comparing relative to absolute.

 That mortality in developed countries is affected more by relative than absolute living standards is shown by three pieces of evidence. Firstly, mortality is related more closely to relative income within countries than to differences in absolute income between them. Secondly, national mortality rates tend to be lowest in countries that have smaller income differences and thus have lower levels of relative deprivation. Thirdly, most of the long term rise in life expectancy seems unrelated to long term economic growth rates. Although both material and social influences contribute to inequalities in health, the importance of relative standards implies that psychosocial pathways may be particularly influential.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...df/9055723.pdf
Mentor
P: 21,886
 Quote by Ryan_m_b Relative poverty is a very important measure. There have been a wealth of studies showing that relative poverty causes health problems, even amongst people of the same socioeconomic class working in the same places doing similar jobs. It's not just imagined out of thin air due to some European liberal ideology.
I disagree with basically all of that - even the part about it being "European" - it is just liberal; it most certainly applies to American liberals.

"Important" is strictly a matter of opinion: clearly this matters to liberals. But that does not mean that there are real-world effects (or, rather, that they are correct about what those real-world effects are). I've never seen convincing evidence that there are real-world effects....so let's have a look:
 It doesn't take much searching on pubmed or a similar site to find epidemiological studies into this, for example: http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/con.../1/78.full.pdf
 It is widely acknowledged that individual income is a powerful determinant of individual health. It is also acknowledged that the relation between individual income and health status is concave, such that each additional dollar of income raises individual health by a decreasing amount.
Agreed. But that isn't what you claimed. You claimed that inequality itself causes health problems, not that lower income causes health problems. The difference - again - is that in a poor economy, incomes go down and inequality also goes down. By your measure, a recession should improve the health of a nation whereas the paper you cite means that a recession would worsen the health of a nation.

Indeed, the paper even is careful to say "income poverty" (absolute poverty) in its discussion: it never cites relative poverty at all. Inequality and relative poverty are not the same thing: this paper is not discussing your point, it is discussing inequality. Inequality and relative poverty are not the same thing. Inequality has its own measure: gini coefficient. But I'll still bite:

The reason for this disconnect between what appears to be the popular liberal view and what the paper says is obvious and has been discussed before: the liberal ideology holds that there is a fixed-pie and that if someone is taking a bigger piece (fractionally), another person must take a smaller piece (by volume). But this is simply factually wrong: the pie is not fixed in size: it grows (and occasionally shrinks), so in reality, the volume of your piece over time can still grow as the fraction you get goes down. And this is in fact exactly what happens over the long-term:

1. Incomes in all sectors rise.
2. Inequality rises.
3. Health in all sectors improves.

Now the paper does go into the issue of inequality itself:
 First, in a comparison of tables 1 and 2, it is evident that the bulk of studies that suggest an association between income inequality and poor health have been conducted so far within the United States (16–25). However, even within the United States, several studies have not corroborated this association (26–30). Second, studies conducted outside the United States have generally failed to find an association between income inequality and health (31–35).
Again, the reason for the discrepancy should be obvious: European countries don't have an association between inequality and health because Europeans countries all have nationalized healthcare and Americans don't! So Americans' health is more impacted by income than Europeans.

I believe that the results of the studies into the impact of inequality itself in the US are mixed because it is very difficult to separate the different effects. But if the hypothesis that inequality itself impacted health were correct, it should show up in European studies because the European studies remove the most obvious confounding variable: the quality of the healthcare.

The study appears to be aware of the issue and tries to explain it away:
 . The absence of an association between income distribution and health in the countries listed on table 2 may therefore reflect a threshold effect of inequality on poor health. When we turn to countries that are relatively more unequal than the United States (e.g., Chile (table 2)), we find some support for the relation (37).
So the general hypothesis that inequality impacts health failed. The alternative hypothesis is that inequality only impacts health when it is above a certain threshold. I think the lack of comment on the lack of national healthcare is a glaring omission (caveat: I haven't finished reading), but either way, the association cannot be as strong as people like to think.

This is an interesting study in that it is a meta-study listing the results of many individual studies. You said "There have been a wealth of studies showing that relative poverty causes health problems..." That's literally true, but I don't think that's what you meant because as they show, the opposite is also true: there have been a wealth of studies showing that relative poverty does not cause health problems. I think you mean to say that the studies tend to agree and show conclusively that there is an impact. They do not:
 Using the existing evidence, can we conclude that income inequality is a public health hazard? The answer to that question is far from settled...
 Quote by Ryan Just because absolute poverty has been almost eradicated in the western world doesn't mean we can sit back and declare everything is fine.... Unless you believe that whether or not one is poor or rich is purely down to personal choice I can't see why anyone would be opposed to policies aimed at measuring and addressing this.
That's a strawman. I've never said that everything was fine or that we shouldn't work to fix issues with poverty - here or anywhere else. What I say is that accurate understanding of problems and useful discussion of them requires useful and honest statistics and in my opinion, relative poverty is not a useful and honest statistic. To be clear, I think the OECD's adding of a chained threshold is an acknowledgement that the stat has failed to show what it is designed to show. But I also think - and this part is opinion - that the statistic was created for political purposes in the first place.
 The fact remains that the poorer classes in society face significant bigger health problems (amongst others but health is the area I have encountered most research on) than those above.
Again, that point is not being debated - I don't know if I'm misunderstanding you or you are misunderstanding me, but it is obvious that in a country where you buy your own healthcare, having more money means having better healthcare. But that isn't what you said before: you said inequality causes health problems. That's a very much different claim. You seem to be reading a lot of things from my posts that I haven't said.
Mentor
P: 21,886
 Quote by Pythagorean Richard Wilkinson is well known for his research comparing relative to absolute. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...df/9055723.pdf
Indeed he is well known and if I remember correctly, due to significant problems with his work he was banned as a source here. This illustrates one of the significant difficulties in discussing this issue: it is often the advocates who are doing the research.
PF Gold
P: 2,994
 Quote by russ_watters So the number we're really looking for (albeit 10 years old) is about 650,000 at any one time.
Or about 0.2% of US the population. My state with about the same population as Denmark has 0.1% of the population counted as homeless at any given time, the same figure given in the essay for Denmark.

Also note from that NCH reference that homeless does necessarily mean on the streets. The definition is "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence ..." which includes not only temporary shelters but also those that are "sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, ..." a definition that included me for some months long ago, though I never would have counted myself 'homeless'.

I have little idea how the above definition compares to Denmark's methodology, other than to guess that there are significant differences.
Mentor
P: 21,886
 Quote by mheslep Also note from that NCH reference that homeless does necessarily mean on the streets. The definition is "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence ..." which includes not only temporary shelters but also those that are "sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, ..." a definition that included me for some months long ago, though I never would have counted myself 'homeless'.
I didn't realize that - a buddy of mine had a poorly coordinated apartment transition a few months ago that left him begging for couch space and keeping his stuff in a friend's garage for two weeks. So he would have been counted as "homeless" as well.
PF Gold
P: 4,152
 Quote by mehslep a definition that included me for some months long ago
The legal definition in the states is more robust then this though. That's only of 1 of 6 requirements (I'm pretty sure this is an AND list, as evidenced by the "and" at the end of 5C). I've bolded the parts that I think would separate "transient homelessness" from true homelessness:

For purposes of this chapter, the terms “homeless”, “homeless individual”, and “homeless person” means— [1]
(1) an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
(2) an individual or family with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
(3) an individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State, or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);
(4) an individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;

(5) an individual or family who—
(A) will imminently lose their housing, including housing they own, rent, or live in without paying rent, are sharing with others, and rooms in hotels or motels not paid for by Federal, State, or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, as evidenced by—

(i) a court order resulting from an eviction action that notifies the individual or family that they must leave within 14 days;
(ii) the individual or family having a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days; or
(iii) credible evidence indicating that the owner or renter of the housing will not allow the individual or family to stay for more than 14 days, and any oral statement from an individual or family seeking homeless assistance that is found to be credible shall be considered credible evidence for purposes of this clause;
(B) has no subsequent residence identified; and
(C) lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing; and

(6) unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who—
(A) have experienced a long term period without living independently in permanent housing,
(B) have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and
(C) can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

notice also that the 5A's are all OR statements with respect to each other : i or ii or iii. But most of the other clauses are AND's.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/11302

I think if mehslep or Russel's friends actually conformed to the definition 5 above (which has some certainty about no future independent housing being available) then they would be dependent on their host and it would be fair to call them homeless.
 PF Gold P: 4,152 I'm not sure now, what the AND's mean. Typically, in law, AND means you're supposed to fulfill all listed requirements (you must be 1 AND 2). But here it seems like it's being used differently, because requiring everyone be a 4) or a 6) would severely limit the definition of homelessness. I guess that with definition, AND is inclusive though, rather than exclusive. So you only need be any one of these. Or, perhaps, different institutions draw on different of the six definitions depending on their purpose. I believe it is the latter, as the McKinney Vento act is only intended for children, so only a 6) would be legible for McKinney Vento hand-outs (i.e. only children).
 P: 180 I live in an area where there is a large homeless population. Everyday after I have breakfast or lunch, I make a sandwich or bagel and give it to a homeless person. They are always so happy to see someone give them something.

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