Population Research and Policy Review 18: 219–236, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
One-year rates of public shelter utilization by race/ethnicity, age,
sex and poverty status for New York City (1990 and 1995) and
& STEPHEN METRAUX
School of Social Work, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA;
Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
Abstract. This study calculates public homeless shelter utilization rates by sex, race/ethnicity
and age status for New York City (1990 and 1995) and Philadelphia (ﬁscal year 1995) to
determine the relative risk for shelter use among different demographic groups in these cities.
The resulting shelter utilization rates reveal large disparities among age groups and across
racial/ethnic groups, as well as showing different trends in shelter utilization among the two
cities. Among the results reported, the rate of shelter utilization declined by 11% in New York
City over this period, while the overall utilization rate in Philadelphia has increased to where
it is 40% higher than that of New York City. Children under age 5, at a rate of 0.0248, have the
highest shelter utilization rate among the age groups studied and the overall rate for blacks is
2.3 times that of the overall population. And while shelter utilization rates among single men
have decreased by 30% in New York City, a similar decrease has not occurred among women
of early childbearing ages or among young children. Finally, policy implications related to
these ﬁndings are discussed.
Keywords: Homeless people, New York City, Philadelphia, Poverty
It has often been observed that certain demographic groups appear to be over-
represented in the homeless population as compared to their presence in the
overall population. For example, the assertion that families, primarily single
women with children, are the fastest growing group among the homeless pop-
ulation has been oft repeated in both the research and the advocacy literature
on homelessness, and suggests that families are becoming increasingly sus-
ceptible to experiencing homelessness. Similarly, surveys have consistently
shown homeless populations to contain high proportions of black persons
(Hopper & Milburn 1996; Blasi 1994), suggesting that blacks, as a racial
group, experience homelessness at rates higher than other racial or ethnic
This study examines to what extent demographic disparities in the shel-
tered homeless population reﬂect increased risks among different demographic