Nearly a third of Americans have at one point worried about becoming homeless and many more are taking in friends and relatives needing a home, a survey found.
The homelessness issue has touched more than those who are living on the streets, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
"People are worried even though it might not ever happen to them," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. "When people read the news and read about bankruptcies, home foreclosures and auto plants being closed, they worry that they may be next."
Overwhelmingly, those polled — 92 percent — said more effort is needed across the nation to address the issue of homelessness. Thirty-five percent said the federal government should take a lead role fighting homelessness, while 25 percent identified state governments as most responsible for addressing the issue.
"It is clear from this poll that Americans are very concerned about homelessness and do not feel enough is being done to address this critical issue," said Stacey Stewart, senior vice president of the Office of Community and Charitable Giving at Fannie Mae.
Twenty-eight percent said they were concerned at one time about becoming homeless. A greater percentage, 44 percent, said they had opened their own homes to a friend or relative who faced being forced onto the streets.
The poll was conducted on behalf of mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which has grant programs that provide funding for low-income housing.
The survey found 58 percent of respondents think the number of homeless is increasing compared with ten years ago.
Recent figures from the Department of Housing and Urban Development show a decline in the number of chronically homeless, those described as continuously living on the streets for a year or more or homeless at least four times in the past three years. That number dropped by nearly 12 percent from 2005 to 2006 — from 175,900 to 155,600.
Overall, HUD estimates there were 754,000 homeless people in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available.
The poll also looked at the perceived causes of homelessness.
Eighty-five percent of those questioned cited abuse of alcohol and drugs as a major cause of homelessness, followed by mental illness, a mental disability or post-traumatic stress disorder, named by two-thirds. Insufficient income and job loss were also named by about two-thirds.
Stoops, with the National Coalition for the Homeless, says people are ill-informed about the root causes of homelessness.
"The two most misunderstood groups in this country in 2007 are the American Muslims and homeless people," said Stoops. "For the majority of homeless folks, the reason they're homeless is because they're poor and they need money and they are chronically normal."
Stoops said a lack of affordable housing nationwide is a main cause of homelessness.
The Gallup poll of 1,002 adults was conducted by telephone from Sept 4. through Oct. 17. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.