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On any given night, more than 600,000 Americans are homeless; one in four, or 138,000, are children. Nationally, homelessness has fallen 9% since 2007, according to the most recent statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The number of chronically homeless has dropped 25% in the past six years, while the homeless veteran population overall is down 24%.
Over the same time period, however, homelessness has increased by more than 20% in Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Washington, DC. In 2013, the New York shelter system population “hovered around a record 50,000 overall. Nearly half are children”.
The NYT’s Andrea Elliott profiles of one of those children, 11-year old Dasani, whom Elliott dubs an “invisible child”. From the shelter where she has lived a quarter of her life, Dasani can see the Empire State Building -- “It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there”, she says -- but the conditions she lives in are atrocious. A city inspector documented the rotting walls and mice infestation, concluding starkly, “Please assist... There is infant in room”.
The Economist attributes the decline in America’s homeless population to smart government policy. In 2009, $1.5 billion in stimulus funds was allocated to helping people on the brink of homelessness stay in their home by paying back rent and utility bills, which saves taxpayer money “because helping those in short-term financial straits to stay in their homes is cheaper than keeping them in shelters until they can rent again”. As the rental market becomes increasingly squeezed, the benefit of this type of assistance increases.