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USA, The 10 Most Notable Homeless Stories of 2009

USA, The 10 Most Notable Homeless Stories of 2009, february 2010

Gala Crum is homeless, pregnant and living in a tent alongside the interstate in Prince William county. (Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post, 2009 )

The economic recession made homelessness a hot topic in 2009. It seemed every day there was a story about shelter bed shortages, record numbers of school children, or a new tent city popping up. But which stories stood out the most? Change.org has scoured the headlines and trends to compile the 10 most notable homelessness stories of 2009.

10. Home Sweet Motel Room

The year 2009 saw motel rooms become the "de facto" low-income and/or subsidized housing for many families. In Massachusetts, for example, one third of state-sheltered homeless families were put up by the state in motels. In other communities, cheap motel rooms are the only housing within financial reach of low-income families. Who could have predicted this one decade ago? Read more here .

9. Tent City Tour

Last October, Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople.tv began capturing raw, unedited stories of homeless people on the streets and sharing them via the web. Just nine months later, in July 2009, he set off on a three-month, 20-city road trip to interview homeless people across the United States. Through the web, we saw the faces and heard the voices of people living in unthinkable conditions -- under bridges, on sidewalks, in shelters, and in tent cities. While each individual's story is moving, perhaps the most compelling thing about the InvisiblePeople.tv road trip is the reality it exposed. In the year 2009, in the richest country in the world, you can drive to any state in the U.S.A. and find people living in third world conditions. Read more here .

8. $1.5 billion in stimulus funds

This year, the feds cut a big check for homeless service providers to try and ease the worsening homelessness crisis with $1.5 billion dollars in the stimulus act. But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of these Recovery Act funds is the new emphasis on prevention over shelter. Keeping people out of the system rather than cycling them through. According to Secretary Donovan , over half of the Recovery Act funds are being spent on prevention programs. That, my friends, is noteworthy. Read more here .

7. Homelessness takes to the web

This year, homelessness coverage exploded on the web. Although many homelessness blogs -- including SLO Homeless, LA's Homelessness blog, the Homeless Guy, and (ahem) this one -- existed pre-2009, several other notable and prominent blogs launched this year. The Huffington Post began covering homelessness issues extensively, Joel John Roberts transformed LA's Homelessness blog into an entire network called INFORuM , the National Alliance to End Homelessness got in on the action by starting a blog , and even the federal government beefed up their online Homelessness Resource Center . This list, of course, does not cover the many other blogs and Twitter feeds that have been launched by service providers and homeless people alike. Consider this trend noted. Read more here .

6. A homeless American Girl Doll

American Girl's 2009 addition to their popular doll series raised a ruckus for her homeless past. Gwen Thompson lived with her single mother and had been homeless for a short time when they left her father. Some found the doll's biography obscene. Others thought it was a sign of the times. Our take? The only thing obscene about this American Girl controversy is that it takes a plastic doll and her fictional biography to have everyone up in arms. Yet, the real stories of homeless children crowding shelters and schools are accepted without an ounce of outrage. This American Girl doll's story is not unrealistic at all. In fact, it's a lot more common than we'd like to think. Read more here .

5. Record setting homelessness

The year 2009 saw unprecedented levels of homelessness. While official HUD numbers will not be released until next year, we had all of the anecdotal evidence necessary to indicate that we were in the midst of a crisis. Shelter bed shortages, increased numbers of tent cities, and schools with record numbers of homeless children in schools, 2009 is noted for this dubious honor. Read more here .

4. UN investigates U.S. for violating human right to housing

The United States should be hanging its head in shame for violating the international human right to adequate housing, according to the initial findings of a special investigation by the United Nations. After a seven-city tour of the US, the UN special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing called the failure of the U.S. to address the growing housing and homelessness crisis "shameful." There will be much more to come on this story in 2010. But in the meantime, read more here .

3. Rise in violence and push for homeless hate crime protections

There's no question that living outdoors increases one's vulnerability to violence. In the past year, the uptick in violent crimes was exposed and the push for homeless hate crime protections intensified. Several states added "homeless" to the categories protected by hate crime legislation and a similar bill was introduced in Congress. Read more here .

2. Uproar over cell phone picture

It all began when Michelle Obama tried to inspire volunteerism and surprise guests of Miriam's Kitchen in D.C. with her appearance in the soup line. The AP covered the event and released a picture of a man in the soup line snapping a photo of the first lady with his cell phone camera. This image left a burning question on everyone's mind: How the heck did the homeless guy get a cell phone? Change.org's coverage of this debacle spelled out the possibilities - and assumptions - by addressing that very question. It also became the most widely read story of 2009 here on the End Homelessness blog. If you missed it, you can read it here .

1. VA Commits to ending veteran homelessness

As war rages on oversees, many U.S. veterans are fighting a different battle at home. Today, roughly one in three homeless adult men is a veteran, and one in five homeless adults have worn the uniform. Although veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan currently represent just three percent of homeless veterans, they are winding up on the streets at rates faster than vets from previous wars. This is why it was so timely and bold for Secretary of Veteran's Affairs Eric Shinseki and the Obama Administration to proclaim in November that they are committed to ending veteran homelessness in five years. Some have been pessimistic about this goal, calling it "overly ambitious" or "over-simplified," but we can all agree on one thing: it's about time.Read more here .