A new study says most homeless people are not mentally ill or alcoholic but are simply poor and in need of help.

"For the general public, the stereotype of mental illness is there, but more and more researchers are finding that's not the situation," said Michael Sosin, a professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.Sosin and two associates conducted the two-year study, which was released Wednesday. In 1986, the researchers interviewed 535 homeless people in Chicago's soup kitchens, shelters and other places where free meals are served.

Only about 20 percent of those who were or had been homeless had spent time in a hospital for treatment of mental illness, Sosin said.

"The indigent are not mentally ill or alcoholic. There are families, single women with children, abused women and runaway youth who have been threatened or abused," said Ronald Vander Kooi, a specialist in homelessness for the Salvation Army in Chicago.