"Homelessness" in the State of the Union

written by naehblog
January 26, 2011

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance research associate Pete Witte, who was inspired to geek out after watching the State of the Union last night.

Last night’s speech by President Barack Obama marked the 221st State of the Union (SOTU) address given in U.S. history. At yesterday’s morning staff meeting, some of us at the Alliance wondered if the President would mention homelessness in his speech.

He didn’t.

But yesterday’s meeting piqued my curiosity. While watching the speech last night, I thought, “I wonder how many times a President has used the words “homeless” or “homelessness” in a State of the Union address?”

And once the question’s asked, I have to find the answer! It was relatively easy to do with a cool online tool provided by a guy named Brad Borowitz. His website allows you to search the all SOTU addresses and offers graphs, charts, and other visual illustrations of all the SOTU speeches.

So allow me to geek out a bit here: in the 221 SOTU addresses in history, a total of 1,676,558 wordshave been used, of which 26,789 are unique (these numbers do not include common words such as “and,” “the,” and “state”). “Homeless” has been used a total of seven times and “homelessness” has been used two times over the course of seven SOTU addresses by a total of four Presidents: George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman.

Now, what exactly this means, if anything, I leave up to you to interpret.

Listed below are the dates of the speeches, the President giving the address, and the paragraph where the word was used, which I have extracted from the speech.


“In the past, we’ve worked together to bring mentors to children of prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. (Applause.) America is the land.”

January 28, 2003, George W. Bush:
“Our fourth goal is to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country – the homeless, the fatherless, the addicted – the need is great. Yet there is power – wonder-working power – in the goodness, and idealism, and faith of the American people.”

February 27, 2001, George W. Bush:
“And my budget adopts a hopeful new approach to help the poor and the disadvantaged. We must encourage and support the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that offer help and love one person at a time. These groups are working in every neighborhood in America to fighthomelessness and addiction and domestic violence; to provide a hot meal or a mentor or a safe haven for our children. Government should welcome these groups to apply for funds, not discriminate against them.”

January 31, 1990, George H.W. Bush:
“It’s no secret that here at home freedom’s door opened long ago. The cornerstones of this free society have already been set in place: democracy, competition, opportunity, private investment, stewardship, and of course leadership. And our challenge today is to take this democratic system of ours, a system second to none, and make it better: a better America, where there’s a job for everyone who wants one; where women working outside the home can be confident their children are in safe and loving care and where government works to expand child-care alternatives for parents; where we reconcile the needs of a clean environment and a strong economy; where “Made in the USA” is recognized around the world as the symbol of quality and progress; where every one of us enjoys the same opportunities to live, to work, and to contribute to society and where, for the first time, the American mainstream includes all of our disabled citizens; where everyone has a roof over his head and where the homelessget the help they need to live in dignity; where our schools challenge and support our kids and our teachers and where all of them make the grade; where every street, every city, every school, and every child is drug-free; and finally, where no American is forgotten — our hearts go out to our hostages who are ceaselessly on our minds and in our efforts.”

“We’ll do what it takes to invest in America’s future. The budget commitment is there. The money is there. It’s there for research and development, R&D — a record high. It’s there for our housing initiative — HOPE — to help everyone from first-time homebuyers to the homeless. The money’s there to keep our kids drug-free — 70 percent more than when I took office in 1989. It’s there for space exploration.”

February 9, 1989, George H.W. Bush:
“We must care about those in the shadow of life, and I, like many Americans, am deeply troubled by the plight of the homeless. The causes of homelessness are many; the history is long. But the moral imperative to act is clear. Thanks to the deep well of generosity in this great land, many organizations already contribute, but we in government cannot stand on the sidelines. In my budget, I ask for greater support for emergency food and shelter, for health services and measures to prevent substance abuse, and for clinics for the mentally ill. And I propose a new initiative involving the full range of government agencies. We must confront this national shame.”


February 4, 1986, Ronald Reagan:
“And we see the dream born again in the joyful compassion of a thirteen year-old, Trevor Ferrell. Two years ago, age eleven, watching men and women bedding down in abandoned doorways–on television he was watching–Trevor left his suburban Philadelphia home to bring blankets and food to the helpless and homeless. And now, 250 people help him fulfill his nightly vigil.”

January 6, 1947, Harry S. Truman:
“However, insofar as admitting displaced persons is concerned, I do not feel that the United States has done its part. Only about 5,000 of them have entered this country since May, 1946. The fact is that the executive agencies are now doing all that is reasonably possible under the limitation of the existing law and established quotas. Congressional assistance in the form of new legislation is needed. I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem, in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.”