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Get ready for the next big financial bubble: the growth of the U.S. homeless population.

The biggest recent assistance for the homeless came in President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus package. The measure provided $1.5 billion to the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, temporarily aiding homeless and near-homeless households. According to a report issued in January by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the program has helped more than 1 million impoverished people find housing, but it is set to end this fall.

"The resources provided by (the program) have run out in many communities. . . . Debt and deficit at the federal level have already begun to shrink assistance available to the most vulnerable," according to the report. "The failure to sustain this early recipe for success threatens to undermine progress now and in the future."

A separate report released in September by the same organization noted that the ranks of the nation's homeless could swell by 5% over the ensuing three years if no similar programs replace the program.

The view from the street

Veda Simpson, a former methadone addict, was homeless for 10 years, living in shelters, crack houses and what she dubbed "abandominiums" in public housing complexes. Then last year, thanks to a federal housing voucher, she moved into an apartment in the North Capitol area of Washington, D.C.

"I used to go in the kitchen and fit my body up under the sink in the cabinet -- you have to adjust your body to get up under there -- and I used to have to sleep in there so security wouldn't find me," Simpson told The Fiscal Times. "I slept in there for about six months, and it was rough."

Simpson, a vendor for StreetSense, a daily newspaper about the homeless, is one of thousands of people who have managed to get off the streets and into housing in recent years, despite one of the worst recessions in modern history, according to experts and homeless advocates. Now Simpson lives in subsidized housing with her eight cats, and she says she is two months away from earning certification as a veterinary technician through an online program. "It's really hard being homeless," she said. "I don't see nobody who wants to continue like that. They're trying to better themselves."

Despite the tough times, there are glimmers of good news, though. The NAEH report found a slight decrease in the overall number of people living on the street from 2009 to 2011: The ranks of the nation's homeless fell by 1%, or about 7,000 people.

Across the country, 636,017 people were identified as homeless in 2011, compared with 643,067 in 2009, according to the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Commerce, and Health and Human Services.

With the visibility of homeless people and panhandlers on street corners of downtown areas in many cities, it's hard to imagine that the problem of homelessness is actually waning. The NAEH study cautions that the plight of the homeless is likely to grow more acute because of low-paying jobs, high housing costs and the loss of emergency federal assistance.

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