As of the end of March, 2008, there were ...2.3M homes...homes that are empty and for sale. That adds up to a vacancy rate of 2.9 percent, which is the highest, reports Bloomberg, "since the bureau started keeping count in 1956." 2.2 million homes were vacant and for sale one year ago.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Second Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released in March 2008, "the total number of homeless persons reported on a single night in January 2006 was 759,101."
Assuming that number bears some reasonable relation to reality, that would mean there are 24 unoccupied homes for every homeless person in the United States.
If you have a more succinct summary, please share it with the class.
Update: As sharp-eyed reader Byronius correctly notes, Andrew Leonard's math (and thus in effect mine) is off by an order of magnitude or so -- the numbers show 2.3 homes per homeless person.
Update #2: This doesn't quite top the homes/homeless thing as a totemic moment, but still speaks volumes:
The mortgage industry, facing the prospect of tougher regulations for its central role in the housing crisis, has begun an intensive campaign to fight back.
As the Federal Reserve completes work on rules to root out abuses by lenders, its plan has run into a buzz saw of criticism from bankers, mortgage brokers and other parts of the housing industry. One common industry criticism is that at a time of tight credit, tighter rules could make many mortgages more expensive by creating more paperwork and potentially exposing lenders to more lawsuits.