In November, Fannie Mae released a report entitled "Homelessness in America: Americans' Perceptions, Attitudes, and Knowledge" conducted by the Gallup Corporation. There were a lot of interesting findings, but it points to the need for more education about homelessness in America. We still have to overcome a number of myths about homeless people. The study was conducted in 8 American cities, and found that the majority of Americans believe that we could do more to address homelessness in the United States.
The good news from the perception studies were that 58% of the population believes that homelessness has increased while only 7% believe it has decreased. The bad news is that homelessness received only a handful of votes as one of the most important issues facing the United States. This means that the chance of a presidential candidate mentioning homelessness is slim. The National Coalition is challenging each candidate to spend at least one night on the street in 2008 to raise awareness of the problem, but based on the survey this is unlikely to rise to the top of a question in one of the debates. November is Hunger and Homeless Awareness week, and Fannie Mae is active in raising dollars with a walk in DC thus the reason for the report.
The survey properly identified the federal government as most responsible for addressing homelessness with 35% of those answering the question identifying the federal government. The State government was second with 25% and City or Local government and Community Groups were tied for third with 20% of the people thinking that these entities should take a lead role in solving homelessness. Only 51% believe that communities are safer when people do not have to live on the streets. The vast majority (85%) of the American public believe drugs or alcohol abuse is the major reason that causes homelessness and 26% of the population believe that that drugs/alcohol is the primary cause of homelessness. The most surprising and dangerous perception in the study was that only 4% of the American public believes that the lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness. This is one percent more than believe that laziness as the primary cause for homelessness. There are millions of people who spend most of their days high or drunk or both and have no problem staying in housing. This leads me to believe that we need to do more education starting at a younger age on the causes of homelessness.
You should check out the study yourself, but here are some other quick notes on the study:
- 44% report that they have taken in a friend or relative who was facing homelessness. THIS IS A HUGE NUMBER!!
- Medical expenses is now the leading worry for Americans that might lead them to become homeless themselves. 43% for medical expenses with 38% job loss.
- 28% of the general public reported that they have worried that they may not have a place to live.
- 9% reported that they did not have enough money to afford food over the last 12 months with 5% reporting that they did not have enough money over the last 12 months to provide housing for their family.
- 91% of the public believes that we can never totally eliminate homelessness.
- 80% report a willingness to volunteer at an organization that helps homeless people.
- A slight majority (54%) would be willing to pay additional taxes to fund programs that help homeless people.
It was also interesting to see the differences in the perceptions in various cities. NEOCH will use this perception study as a place to start for our public education campaign.Brian
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.