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.

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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