An estimated 754,000 people -- most of them minorities -- are homeless on any given night in the United States, according to a government survey presented to Congress yesterday.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development based its estimate on the number of people who lived in shelters and on the streets on a single night in January 2005.

The report made it clear there are more homeless people in the nation than beds in shelters and transitional housing.

In early 2005, there were 438,300 beds in such sites, the report said. However, HUD said there are an additional 209,000 beds in permanent houses for formerly homeless people.

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson trumpeted the study -- the first of its kind by the agency -- as a "huge leap forward in our understanding of not only how many people are homeless but also what their needs are."

Jackson called this report{vbar} "a powerful tool to help all of us at the federal, state and local level design more effective responses to homelessness and better help those who are living in shelters and on our streets."

Michael Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, criticized the government for "spending more time on counting homeless people than finding housing for them."

"But we hope these figures will make Americans aware we are not doing as much as we can for homeless people," Stoops said in an interview.

The HUD survey of 80 areas also reported that 704,000 people used emergency shelters or transitional housing between February and April 2005.

About 65 percent of these people were men, and 19 percent were military veterans. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed were racial minorities; 45 percent were black. A third of the people who sought shelter during that three-month period had families with children, and a quarter had disabilities.