The plight of America's homeless represents a modern-day "Grapes of Wrath," says Dr. Judy A. Hall, executive director for Travelers Aid International.

But unlike the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, when greater opportunities existed for people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, today's society offers fewer such hopes, Hall said.Hall, in Utah Tuesday to address the annual meeting of the Travelers Aid Society of Salt Lake City, said the story of America's homeless is a grim one.

Over 46 percent of homeless school-age youth don't attend school. This is particularly alarming in that it serves to perpetuate the problem for another generation.

There's a higher incidence of child neglect and abuse among the homeless.

The longer the homeless remain out of mainstream society, the more likely they are to exhaust family and friends as resources. For most who end up on Travelers Aid's doorstep, it is the end of the road their absolutely last choice. Many spend the night before entering a shelter asleep in their cars, bus and train stations or under viaducts.

Fifty years ago, California was the promised land. Displaced people today flood cities like Detroit and Dallas and Houston looking for work in the auto plants and oil fields, only to find out the jobs they're seeking no longer exist.

"They go to where they think the jobs are," Hall said. "This is particularly true of the influx into the Southern States.

Many don't have access to the necessary information to make plans which is where the Travelers Aid Society comes in, Hall said. Travelers Aid gathers and shares information to help the distressed and disenfranchised. She said Travelers Aid wants either to help these people plant roots in one area where they can become productive citizens or at least to point them in the right direction for better opportunities.

She said Travelers Aid has successfully lobbied for federal homeless legislation to provide funding for emergency food and shelter, and increased low-income housing and work opportunities. Individual states and communities have followed suit.

She said Travelers Aid is also joining forces with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to start a pilot program for collecting information on the homeless mentally ill to build a data base.