The Geography of Homelessness in American Communities: Concentration or Dispersion?

Few recent studies of homelessness have focused on the distribution of the phenomenon across different types of community contexts. Nevertheless, claims are often made about the decline of urban skid rows and the increasing spatial ubiquity of the homeless population. Motivated by these claims, our research analyzes 1990 Census S-night data at multiple geographic levels to determine whether homeless people remain locationally concentrated or have become more dispersed in the contemporary United States. Data from the 2000 Census, though limited in scope, are briefly examined as well. We find that the “visible” homeless are overrepresented in metropolitan and urban portions of the nation, in central cities of metropolitan areas, and in a minority of neighborhoods within these areas. Such an uneven distribution, which favors the concentration over the dispersion perspective, often takes a polynucleated form in large cities. Forces shaping the geography of homelessness are discussed, as are the policy implications and methodological caveats associated with our results.

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City & Community