While numbers are important, a substantial part of the disagreement concerning the number of homeless people and their characteristics derives from differing definitions of homelessness. However, there is a consensus on basic needs to proceed with social policies that address homelessness, with the aim of ending it. Housing assistance is essential to ending homelessness and will need to be provided, at least in the short run, to all homeless and at-risk households to enable them to obtain decent housing. The attrition in the number of unsubsidized low-rent units and the loss of the single-room occupancy (SRO) stock have been major causes of homelessness in the 1980s. Permanent housing must be coupled with other services to address the additional, nonhousing problems of a substantial portion of homeless people. The federal plan to end homelessness offers promise of developing a viable, coherent set of programs and policies, particularly if mainstream programs are improved and made accessible to homeless people. But carrying out a meaningful plan to end homelessness will require both committed and sustained political leadership and substantial increases in funding.
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