IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Trends in the size of the nation's homeless population during the 1980s: A surprising result


  • I. Garfinkel
  • I. Piliavin


There are good national estimates of the number of homeless people in shelters in 1984, 1988, and 1990, but only in 1987 is there a reliable estimate of the number of people sleeping in streets. The large increase in the sheltered homeless population between 1984 and 1987-88 could reflect a shift of the homeless from street to shelters rather than a growth in total homelessness. Data from a number of local studies of homeless populations in U.S. cities in the 1980s have made it possible to estimate the ratio of the number of homeless on the street to the number of homeless in shelters and thereby to estimate the size of the national homeless population over this period with some degree of accuracy. Our estimates indicate that the expansion of shelters over the decade did have the effect of reducing the proportion of the homeless living on the street. Still, when we combine the estimated ratios with the estimates of the shelter population in 1984, 1987, 1988, and 1990, we find that homelessness about doubled between 1984 and 1987. We also find that homelessness declined between 1987 and 1990. At its peak, the number of people literally homeless on any given night was less than 400,000. Finally, our results also provide evidence that pure enumerations or censuses of the homeless population lead to undercounts. Both sample censuses and retrospective interview studies provide more complete counts.

Suggested Citation

  • I. Garfinkel & I. Piliavin, "undated". "Trends in the size of the nation's homeless population during the 1980s: A surprising result," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1034-94, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1034-94

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barrett Lee, 1989. "Stability and Change in an Urban Homeless Population," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 26(2), pages 323-334, May.
    2. Richard B. Freeman & Brian Hall, 1986. "Permanent Homelessness in America?," NBER Working Papers 2013, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1034-94. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Thomas Krichel). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.