For want of a few hundred dollars, more than 750,000 Americans temporarily lose their housing each year, a newly released study reports. These ``episodically homeless'' families and individuals make up as much as 52 percent of those currently homeless.

Among the other findings of the six-year study, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The number of people homeless at some time during the year is about 1.5 million, roughly three times the homeless population on any given night.

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One in four homeless people is female, and one in seven is a child under age 19.

About 40 percent of homeless people abuse alcohol, 13 percent use drugs, and 33 percent have been diagnosed as mentally ill.

``Like most people I had a whole set of stereotypes about who they were,'' says Prof. James Wright of Tulane University, who conducted the study. ``I was surprised at the number of people who were homeless for strictly economic reasons.''

``The one thing that stuck in my mind the most is that most homeless people are not chronically homeless; they bounce in and out of homelessness on a regular basis,'' he says.

Dr. Wright suggests a government program of cash subsidies to families in need. He also recommends low-interest loans administered through welfare offices that would tide over those temporarily in need. ``It makes sense to deal with issues of prevention rather that dealing with problems once they've set in,'' he says.

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