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Offering More Than Hope

Tuesday night actor William Baldwin and his friend, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, spent the night at the House of Ruth, a transitional facility for homeless people in Washington D.C.

They went there after a reception kicking off HUD's "December to Remember" campaign, inviting Americans to become more involved with homeless people. And to explain what the issue is all about, HUD is also releasing what it says is the largest study of homeless people in America. The Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson reports.

"Once we communicate the truth,...we'll then understand the best solutions going forward," said Secretary Cuomo.

Some of the substantial findings of the report include the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems within the homeless population, he noted.

But Cuomo was encouraged to know that 76 percent of the people who actually get help improve their lives and move on, he said.

Portrait Of American Homeless
Read more about the report.
"It says they're working. We have to do more of it. Where we are providing services, the services are working. We're improving lives," he said.

"And people are moving out of the homeless system into permanent housing and on to productive lives," Cuomo added.

The December to Remember campaign will feature public service announcements by more than a dozen celebrities this month.

One celebrity volunteering on behalf of homeless Americans is Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social and political advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment industry.

"I'm a concerned citizen. This is a very important issue to me," he said, adding that when the economy is strong, people tend to become complacent "and think everything is OK. And we still have a major crisis with homelessness in this country."

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Baldwin said it was inspiring chatting with street people at the House of Ruth almost until midnight. They talked about mental illness, joblessness and domestic violence, and some core issues that are underlying causes of homelessness, he added.

"Last night it was inspirational, and it was about the future. But it wasn't about hope for the future, it was really future under construction," Baldwin said.

"People were being provided the skills and the tool to have sustained self-sufficiency for the remainder of their lives," he said.

The facility, housing 10 families of women and their children, is divided into apartments so residents gain a sense of living on their own. They are allowed to stay up to two years.

When asked what he thought of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plan to force homeless people to work in exchange for staying at city shelters, Cuomo said his report should provide some directions.

"If they have a mental health problem, arresting that person and putting them in jail is going to accomplish nothing," he observed.

"It might even be counterproductive and could make the mental health problem worse. It's also more expensive, put a person in a jail cell than it is to put a person in a mental health bed, almost three times more expensive," Cuomo said.

"Everyone believes that people who can work should work," Cuomo said. "The survey also says, interestingly, every homeless person wants to work. It's the No. 1 thing they want."

"If they're not in a position to work and have been evicted and put on the street, it doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense," he added.

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