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Homelessness in America

Updated: Feb 24

March 2019

Dynamics of homelessness in urban America

Chris Glynn, Emily B. Fox

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The relationship between housing costs and homelessness has important implications for the way that city and county governments respond to increasing homeless populations. Though many analyses in the public policy literature have examined inter-community variation in homelessness rates to identify causal mechanisms of homelessness [J. Urban Aff.35 (2013) 607–625; J. Urban Aff.25 (2003) 335–356; Am. J. Publ. Health103 (2013) S340–S347], few studies have examined time-varying homeless counts within the same community [J. Mod. Appl. Stat. Methods15 (2016) 15]. To examine trends in homeless population counts in the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, we develop a dynamic Bayesian hierarchical model for time-varying homeless count data. Particular care is given to modeling uncertainty in the homeless count generating and measurement processes, and a critical distinction is made between the counted number of homeless and the true size of the homeless population. For each metro under study, we investigate the relationship between increases in the Zillow Rent Index and increases in the homeless population. Sensitivity of inference to potential improvements in the accuracy of point-in-time counts is explored, and evidence is presented that the inferred increase in the rate of homelessness from 2011–2016 depends on prior beliefs about the accuracy of homeless counts. A main finding of the study is that the relationship between homelessness and rental costs is strongest in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.


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