29 Clearinghouse Rev. 730 (1995-1996)
Taking the Measure of Homelessness: Recent Research on Scale and Race

handle is hein.journals/clear29 and id is 756 raw text is: Taking the Measure of Homelessness:
Recent Research on Scale and Race
by Kim Hopper

I. Introduction
The Clinton Administration's blueprint
to break the cycle of homelessness
estimated that seven million Americans
were homeless during 1985-1990.1 This
estimate of the scale of homelessness
was roundly condemned in conservative
quarters as evidence that the Depart-
ment of Housing and Urban Develop-
ment (HUD) was infested with ide-
ologues and advocates.2 However, this
article's review of recent research, par-
ticularly on the numbers of homeless
over time, supports that estimate. Simi-
larly, a review of the historical record on
homelessness among African Americans
brings into question the notion that
black Americans were rarely homeless
and highlights the widespread neglect of
race in the analyses of homelessness in
the 1980s.
Repeatedly dodged or muddied in
policy discussions to date and viewed
from the vantage point of what threatens
to become the great dismantling of
1995, race and scale look like the muf-
fled Cassandras of the 1980s.3 Today,
deflated estimates of the scale of home-
lessness and of its impact on African

Americans figure covertly in facile calcu-
lations of the costs of proposed budget
cuts and program elimination. However,
once the budget cuts are implemented
and the various programs eliminated, the
actual numbers on homelessness are
likely not only to be rediscovered but also
likely to increase.
Advocates cannot afford to take the
official version of homelessness at its
(mostly white and conveniently reduced)
face value. A closer look at the dimension
of race and at turnover rates in shelters will
surely complicate the task of advocacy, but
it will also serve to keep it honest.
II. The Legacy of Epidemiology
The discipline of epidemiology-the
study of the distribution and determinants
of disease in human populations-has
long dominated the discourse on contem-
porary U.S. homelessness. In large meas-
ure, this reflects a long-standing cultural
conviction that a nomadic, mendicant
lifestyle is a kind of pathology and thus
a suitable candidate for diagnosis and
disease tracing. The epidemiological
bias has led to some distortions. Perhaps
the most consequential has been the

1 INTERAGENCY COUNCIL ON THE HOMELESS, PRIORITY HOME! THE FEDERAL PLAN TO BREAK THE
CYCLE OF HOMELESSNESS (1994) [hereinafter the FEDERAL PLAN].
See, e.g., C. Horowitz, Fast Shuffle on the Homeless? INVESTOR'S Bus. DAILY, Mar. 23, 1994,
at 1.
3 See also G. Blasi, And We Are Not Seen, 37 AM. BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST 563-86 (1994).

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW  I NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1995

Kim Hopper, Ph.D., is an
anthropologist who works as a
research scientist at the Nathan
S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric
Research, Orangeburg, NY
10962; (914) 365-2000. He is a
member of the Legal Services
Homelessness Task Force.

730

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