Why houses are being torn down when homelessness is going up is a question that comes up often in meetings Davis has with the homeless. But he acknowledges that there are many homes in Cleveland not worth saving.

That's the same case in Detroit, where Dean Simmer often writes about homelessness issues on his blog.

"There are homes so blighted -- burned out, second floor falling in -- that no one should live in a home like that," said Simmer, who teaches at Detroit Cristo Rey High School and runs the school's information technology department.

Simmer sees many obstacles to any process of turning foreclosed or abandoned properties over to the homeless. "There are all kinds of issues -- crime, squatters, injury, liability -- not things banks want to get involved in," he said.

In fact, the best thing for the banks would be to have the property owners keep paying the mortgages and stay in the homes.

As part of its program to donate homes for demolition in Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago, Bank of America has held sessions for homeowners to meet with mortgage-modification specialists. Five hundred customers showed up in Cleveland, 1,600 in Chicago and 1,400 in Detroit.

Chase Bank has set up a down-payment assistance program for Detroit city employees to move into vacant homes in designated areas, and CitiMortgage held events in several cities last summer where 1,000 homeowners met with officials about mortgage problems. Nine hundred of those homeowners were at least 60 days behind on their mortgage payments, and 300 were in foreclosure. In September, Citi announced that 600 had met qualifications for loan modifications.

But even with help, many homeowners haven't been able to keep up with payments.

Rebecca Mairone, the national mortgage outreach executive for Bank of America Home Loans, said homeowners faced with economic hardships have moved into other housing and "in many cases have walked away from their homes, leaving behind vacant and deteriorating properties that can cause neighborhood blight."

Reselling the properties would be the next-best course of action for the banks. But remember location, location, location? The homes are in areas with dwindling populations and few buyers.

"Detroit covers 129 square miles, was built for 2.2 million people but loses 50,000 a year and now has just over 700,000 people," said local activist Jeff DeBruyn.

He has been an advocate for the homeless, a community organizer who helped reopen an abandoned apartment complex and most recently a self-described "entrepreneur" of The Imagination Station, a nonprofit whose ultimate goal is to construct "a creative campus in Detroit built on community, technology, sustainability and the arts."

But first it is cleaning up two blighted homes across from Detroit's historic, long-closed Michigan Central Station.

DeBruyn said that if a foreclosed home is the only one in an area and is in good condition, it probably should be saved. But he cautioned that "you can't leave property abandoned for a minute" before bad things start to happen.

"If homes are in foreclosure, it might be better to make way for a different use," said DeBruyn, who noted that many properties in Detroit fell into public hands after landlords ignored nuisance-abatement procedures.

DeBruyn said he "cheers internally" and hears from happy neighbors when boarded-up homes come down. "I get emails saying, 'I was going to leave Detroit, but now I'm staying, and thanks for that.'"