How many homeless people are there in the United States? It's a tricky question to answer, but I want to try running some numbers past you. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has some good ones to get this started. They estimate there are 672,000 people on the streets every night. Of those 672,000, 37 percent are believed to be homeless families, usually a woman with one or two children.
Most homeless people are, as you might expect, looking for shelter in cities. But at least 20 percent of them are in rural areas, and that number may be even higher because the more remote the area, the harder it is to count the homeless who may be living there.
The number one state, with the most homeless of all? California.
That's amazing to me: Our once-prosperous state, home to much innovation, money and creative energy, has become the homeless capital of America. According to some observers, it might be the nation's first state to fail.
What I've written above are the most solid numbers I could find, and they're from two years ago -- the last time anybody compiled state-by-state data. Drawing from those 2007 numbers again, we learn that 42 percent of homeless people are living on the street, but more than half -- 58 percent -- are in transitional housing. That's the spark of good news I think -- because many believe that transitional, even temporary housing, is the way to help solve homelessness. To focus on that, let's go to Ventura, California.
In Ventura, the numbers are newer, drawn from data gathered this year in the last week of January. On a given day, there are about 2200 homeless children and adults on the streets in Ventura. (Federal estimates put the number even higher, at more than 8,000, according to the Ventura County Star.) Most of those children and adults, 73 percent, are living on the streets but the remainder, a little over 25 percent, have found some kind of shelter, some in temporary accommodations such as River Haven.
Some experts believe that 18 percent of the homeless population are "chronically" homeless, meaning that they are mentally ill or otherwise unable to care for themselves. There's debate on that number, but even if it's rough, it still means that a lot of homeless people are people who may have slipped into a tough position and are trying to work their way out. With the economy still in slow recovery mode, it means that we have a crisis on low simmer that's not going to go away. More families are going to be looking for shelter.
This is where architects and designers can step in with inventive solutions. Bruce LeBel of World Shelters recently put up another round of housing in Arcata. (Working with the Turning Point Foundation, Bruce's company World Shelters revitalized the River Haven community in Ventura, California.) Vinay Gupta has long been developing the Hexayurt, a shelter that can be made from plywood, composites, hexacomb cardboard and other materials. He sees it as a solution for regions with large scale rehousing needs, such as Bangladesh. They've also been used at Burning Man.