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  • Published: 22 August 2017

Social conditions of becoming homelessness: qualitative analysis of life stories of homeless peoples

  • Mzwandile A. Mabhala   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1350-7065 1 , 3 ,
  • Asmait Yohannes 2 &
  • Mariska Griffith 1  

International Journal for Equity in Health volume  16 , Article number:  150 ( 2017 ) Cite this article

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It is increasingly acknowledged that homelessness is a more complex social and public health phenomenon than the absence of a place to live. This view signifies a paradigm shift, from the definition of homelessness in terms of the absence of permanent accommodation, with its focus on pathways out of homelessness through the acquisition and maintenance of permanent housing, to understanding the social context of homelessness and social interventions to prevent it.

However, despite evidence of the association between homelessness and social factors, there is very little research that examines the wider social context within which homelessness occurs from the perspective of homeless people themselves. This study aims to examine the stories of homeless people to gain understanding of the social conditions under which homelessness occurs, in order to propose a theoretical explanation for it.

Twenty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with homeless people in three centres for homeless people in Cheshire North West of England.

The analysis revealed that becoming homeless is a process characterised by a progressive waning of resilience capacity to cope with life challenges created by series of adverse incidents in one’s life. The data show that final stage in the process of becoming homeless is complete collapse of relationships with those close to them. Most prominent pattern of behaviours participants often describe as main causes of breakdown of their relationships are:

engaging in maladaptive behavioural lifestyle including taking drugs and/or excessive alcohol drinking

Being in trouble with people in authorities.

Homeless people describe the immediate behavioural causes of homelessness, however, the analysis revealed the social and economic conditions within which homelessness occurred. The participants’ descriptions of the social conditions in which were raised and their references to maladaptive behaviours which led to them becoming homeless, led us to conclude that they believe that their social condition affected their life chances: that these conditions were responsible for their low quality of social connections, poor educational attainment, insecure employment and other reduced life opportunities available to them.

It is increasingly acknowledged that homelessness is a more complex social and public health phenomenon than the absence of a place to live. This view signifies a paradigm shift, from the definition of homelessness in terms of the absence of permanent accommodation [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ], with its focus on pathways out of homelessness through the acquisition and maintenance of permanent housing [ 6 ], to understanding the social context of homelessness and social interventions to prevent it [ 6 ].

Several studies explain the link between social factors and homelessness [ 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 ]. The most common social explanations centre on seven distinct domains of deprivation: income; employment; health and disability; education, skills and training; crime; barriers to housing and social support services; and living environment [ 11 ]. Of all forms, income deprivation has been reported as having the highest risk factors associated with homelessness [ 7 , 12 , 13 , 14 ]: studies indicate that people from the most deprived backgrounds are disproportionately represented amongst the homeless [ 7 , 13 ]. This population group experiences clusters of multiple adverse health, economic and social conditions such as alcohol and drug misuse, lack of affordable housing and crime [ 10 , 12 , 15 ]. Studies consistently show an association between risk of homelessness and clusters of poverty, low levels of education, unemployment or poor employment, and lack of social and community support [ 7 , 10 , 13 , 16 ].

Studies in different countries throughout the world have found that while the visible form of homelessness becomes evident when people reach adulthood, a large proportion of homeless people have had extreme social disadvantage and traumatic experiences in childhood including poverty, shortage of social housing stocks, disrupted schooling, lack of social and psychological support, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, dysfunctional family environments, and unstable family structures, all of which increase the likelihood of homelessness [ 10 , 13 , 14 ].

Furthermore, a large body of evidence suggests that people exposed to diverse social disadvantages at an early age are less likely to adapt successfully compared to people without such exposure [ 9 , 10 , 13 , 17 ], being more susceptible to adopting maladaptive coping behaviours such as theft, trading sex for money, and selling or using drugs and alcohol [ 7 , 9 , 18 , 19 ]. Studies show that these adverse childhood experiences tend to cluster together, and that the number of adverse experiences may be more predictive of negative adult outcomes than particular categories of events [ 17 , 20 ]. The evidence suggests that some clusters are more predictive of homelessness than others [ 7 , 12 ]: a cluster of childhood problems including mental health and behavioural disorders, poor school performance, a history of foster care, and disrupted family structure was most associated with adult criminal activities, adult substance use, unemployment and subsequent homelessness [ 12 , 17 , 21 ]. However, despite evidence of the association between homelessness and social factors, there is very little research that examines the wider social context within which homelessness occurs from the perspective of homeless people themselves.

This paper adopted Anderson and Christian’s [ 18 ] definition, which sees homelessness as a ‘function of gaining access to adequate, affordable housing, and any necessary social support needed to ensure the success of the tenancy’. Based on our synthesis of the evidence, this paper proposes that homelessness is a progressive process that begins at childhood and manifests itself at adulthood, one characterised by loss of the personal resources essential for successful adaptation. We adopted the definition of personal resources used by DeForge et al. ([ 7 ], p. 223), which is ‘those entities that either are centrally valued in their own right (e.g. self-esteem, close attachment, health and inner peace) or act as a means to obtain centrally valued ends (e.g. money, social support and credit)’. We propose that the new paradigm focusing on social explanations of homelessness has the potential to inform social interventions to reduce it.

In this study, we examine the stories of homeless people to gain understanding of the conditions under which homelessness occurs, in order to propose a theoretical explanation for it.

The design of this study was philosophically influenced by constructivist grounded theory (CGT). The aspect of CGT that made it appropriate for this study is its fundamental ontological belief in multiple realities constructed through the experience and understanding of different participants’ perspectives, and generated from their different demographic, social, cultural and political backgrounds [ 22 ]. The researchers’ resulting theoretical explanation constitutes their interpretation of the meanings that participants ascribe to their own situations and actions in their contexts [ 22 ].

The stages of data collection and analysis drew heavily on other variants of grounded theory, including those of Glaser [ 23 ] and Corbin and Strauss [ 24 ].

Setting and sampling strategy

The settings for this study were three centres for homeless people in two cities (Chester and Crewe) in Cheshire, UK. Two sampling strategies were used in this study: purposive and theoretical. The study started with purposive sampling and in-depth one-to-one semi-structured interviews with eight homeless people to generate themes for further exploration.

One of the main considerations for the recruitment strategy was to ensure that the process complies with the ethical principles of voluntary participation and equal opportunity to participate. To achieve this, an email was sent to all the known homeless centres in the Cheshire and Merseyside region, inviting them to participate. Three centres agreed to participate, all of them in Cheshire – two in Chester and one in Crewe.

Chester is the most affluent city in Cheshire and Merseyside, and therefore might not be expected to be considered for a homelessness project. The reasons for including it were: first, it was a natural choice, since the organisations that funded the project and the one that led the research project were based in Chester; second, despite its affluence, there is visible evidence of homelessness in the streets of Chester; and third, it has several local authority and charity-funded facilities for homeless people.

The principal investigator spent 1 day a week for 2 months in three participating centres, during that time oral presentation of study was given to all users of the centre and invited all the participants to participate and written participants information sheet was provided to those who wished to participate. During that time the principal investigator learned that the majority of homeless people that we were working with in Chester were not local. They told us that they came to Chester because there was no provision for homeless people in their former towns.

To help potential participants make a self-assessment of their suitability to participate without unfairly depriving others of the opportunity, participants information sheet outline criteria that potential participants had to meet: consistent with Economic and Social Research Council’s Research Ethics Guidebook [ 25 ], at the time of consenting to and commencing the interview, the participant must appear to be under no influence of alcohol or drugs, have a capacity to consent as stipulated in England and Wales Mental Capacity Act 2005 [ 26 ], be able to speak English, and be free from physical pain or discomfort.

As categories emerged from the data analysis, theoretical sampling was used to refine undeveloped categories in accordance with Strauss and Corbin’s [ 27 ] recommendations. In total 26 semi-structured interviews were carried out. Theoretical sampling involved review of memos or raw data, looking for data that might have been overlooked [ 27 , 28 ], and returning to key participants asking them to give more information on categories that seemed central to the emerging theory [ 27 , 28 ].

The sample comprised of 22 male and 4 female, the youndgest participant was 18 the eldest was 74 years, the mean age was 38.6 years. Table 1 illustrates participant’s education history, childhood living arrangements, brief participants family and social history, emotional and physical health, the onset of and trigger for homelessness.

Ethical approval

Ethical approval was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Chester. The centre managers granted access once ethical approval had been obtained, and after their review of the study design and other research material, and of the participant information sheet which included a letter of invitation highlighting that participation was voluntary.

Data analysis

In this study data collection and analysis occurred simultaneously. Analysis drew on Glaser’s [ 23 ] grounded theory processes of open coding, use of the constant comparative method, and the iterative process of data collection and data analysis to develop theoretical explanation of homelessness.

The process began by reading the text line-by-line identifying and open coding the significant incidents in the data that required further investigation. The findings from the initial stage of analysis are published in Mabhala [ 29 ]. The the second stage the data were organised into three themes that were considered significant in becoming homeless (see Fig. 1 ):

Engaging in maladaptive behaviour

Being in trouble with the authorities.

Being in abusive environments.

Social explanation of becoming homeless. Legend: Fig. 1 illustrates the process of becoming homeless

The key questions that we asked as we continued to interrogate the data were: What category does this incident indicate? What is actually happening in the data? What is the main concern being faced by the participants? Interrogation of the data revealed that participants were describing the process of becoming homeless.

The comparative analysis involved three processes described by Glaser ([ 23 ], p. 58–60): each incident in the data was compared with incidents from both the same participant and other participants, looking for similarities and differences. Significant incidents were coded or given labels that represented what they stood for, and similarly coded or labeled when they were judged to be about the same topic, theme or concept.

After a period of interrogation of the data, it was decided that the two categories - destabilising behaviour, and waning ofcapacity for resilience were sufficiently conceptual to be used as theoretical categories around which subcategories could be grouped (Fig. 1 ).

Once the major categories had been developed, the next step consisted of a combination of theoretical comparison and theoretical sampling. The emerging categories were theoretically compared with the existing literature. Once this was achieved, the next step was filling in and refining the poorly defined categories. The process continued until theoretical sufficiency was achieved.

Figure 1 illustrates the process of becoming homeless. The analysis revealed that becoming homeless is a process characterised by a progressive waning of resilience created by a series of adverse incidents in one’s life. Amongst the frequently cited incidents were being in an abusive environment and losing a significant person in one’s life. However, being in an abusive environment emerged from this and previously published studies as a major theme; therefore, we decided to analyse it in more detail.

The data further show that the final stage in the process of becoming homeless is a complete collapse of relationships with those with whom they live. The most prominent behaviours described by the participants as being a main cause of breakdown are:

Engaging in maladaptive behaviour: substance misuse, alcoholism, self-harm and disruptive behaviours

Being in trouble with the authorities: theft, burglary, arson, criminal offenses and convictions

The interrogation of data in relation to the conditions within which these behaviours occurred revealed that participants believed that their social contexts influenced their life chance, their engagement with social institution such as education and social services and in turn their ability to acquire and maintain home. Our experiences have also shown that homeless people readily express the view that behavioural lifestyle factors such as substance misuse and engaging in criminal activities are the causes of becoming homeless. However, when we spent time talking about their lives within the context of their status as homeless people, we began to uncover incidents in their lives that appeared to have weakened their capacity to constructively engage in relationships, engage with social institutions to make use of social goods [ 29 , 30 , 31 ] and maturely deal with societal demands.

Being in abusive environments

Several participants explicitly stated that their childhood experiences and damage that occurred to them as children had major influences on their ability to negotiate their way through the education system, gain and sustain employment, make appropriate choices of social networks, and form and maintain healthy relationships as adults.

It appears that childhood experiences remain resonant in the minds of homeless participants, who perceive that these have had bearing on their homelessness. Their influence is best articulated in the extracts below. When participants were asked to tell their stories of what led to them becoming homeless, some of their opening lines were:

What basically happened, is that I had a childhood of so much persistent, consistent abuse from my mother and what was my stepfather. Literally consistent, we went around with my mother one Sunday where a friend had asked us to stay for dinner and mother took the invitation up because it saved her from getting off her ass basically and do anything. I came away from that dinner genuinely believing that the children in that house weren’t loved and cared for, because they were not being hit, there was no shouting, no door slamming. [Marco]

It appears that Marco internalised the incidents of abuse, characterised by shouting, door slamming and beating as normal behaviour. He goes on to intimate how the internalised abusive behaviour affected his interaction with his employers.

‘…but consistently being put down, consistently being told I was thick, I started taking jobs and having employers effing and blinding at me. One employer actually used a “c” word ending in “t” at me quite frequently and I thought it was acceptable, which obviously now I know it’s not. So I am taking on one job after another that, how can I put it? That no one else would do basically. I was so desperate to work and earn my own money. [Marco]

Similarly, David makes a connection between his childhood experience and his homelessness. When he was asked to tell his life story leading to becoming homeless, his opening line was:

I think it [homelessness] started off when I was a child. I was neglected by my mum. I was physically and mentally abused by my mum. I got put into foster care, when I left foster care I was put in the hostel, from there I turn into alcoholic. Then I was homeless all the time because I got kicked out of the hostels, because you are not allowed to drink in the hostel. [David]

David and Marco’s experiences are similar to those of many participants. The youngest participant in this study, Clarke, had fresh memories of his abusive environment under his stepdad:

I wouldn't want to go back home if I had a choice to, because before I got kicked out me stepdad was like hitting me. I wouldn't want to go back to put up with that again. [I didn't tell anyone] because I was scared of telling someone and that someone telling me stepdad that I've told other people. ‘[Be] cause he might have just started doing again because I told people. It might have gotten him into trouble. [Clarke]

In some cases, participants expressed the beliefs that their abusive experience not only deprived them life opportunities but also opportunities to have families of their own. As Tom and Marie explain:

We were getting done for child neglect because one of our child has a disorder that means she bruise very easily. They all our four kids into care, social workers said because we had a bad childhood ourselves because I was abused by my father as well, they felt that we will fail our children because we were failed by our parents. We weren’t given any chance [Tom and Marie]

Norma, described the removal of her child to care and her maladaptive behaviour of excessive alcohol use in the same context as her experience of sexual abuse by her father.

I had two little boys with me and got took off from me and put into care. I got sexually abused by my father when I was six. So we were put into care. He abused me when I was five and raped me when I was six. Then we went into care all of us I have four brothers and four sisters. My dad did eighteen months for sexually abusing me and my sister. I thought it was normal as well I thought that is what dads do [Norma]

The analysis of participants in this study appears to suggest that social condition one is raised influence the choice of social connections and life partner. Some participants who have had experience of abuse as children had partner who had similar experience as children Tom and Marie, Lee, David and his partners all had partners who experienced child abuse as children.

Tom and Marie is a couple we interviewed together. They met in hostel for homeless people they have got four children. All four children have been removed from them and placed into care. They sleep rough along the canal. They explained:

We have been together for seven years we had a house and children social services removed children from us, we fell within bedroom tax. …we received an eviction order …on the 26th and the eviction date was the 27th while we were in family court fighting for our children. …because of my mental health …they were refusing to help us.
Our children have been adopted now. The adoption was done without our permission we didn’t agree to it because we wanted our children home because we felt we were unfairly treated and I [Marie] was left out in all this and they pin it all on you [Tom] didn’t they yeah, my [Tom] history that I was in care didn’t help.

Tom went on to talk about the condition under which he was raised:

I was abandoned by my mother when I was 12 I was then put into care; I was placed with my dad when I was 13 who physically abused me then sent back to care. [Tom].

David’s story provides another example of how social condition one is raised influence the choice of social connections and life partner. David has two children from two different women, both women grew up in care. Lisa one of David’s child mother is a second generation of children in care, her mother was raised in care too.

I drink to deal with problems. As I say I’ve got two kids with my girlfriend Kyleigh, but I got another lad with Lisa, he was taken off me by social services and put on for adoption ten years ago and that really what started it; to deal with that. Basically, because I was young, and I had been in care and the way I had been treated by my mum. Basically laid on me in the same score as my mum and because his mum [Lisa] was in care as well. So they treated us like that, which was just wrong. [David]

In this study, most participants identified alcohol or drugs and crime as the cause of relationships breakdown. However, the language they used indicates that these were secondary reasons rather than primary reasons for their homelessness. The typical question that MA and MG asked the interview participants was “tell us how did you become homeless”? Typically, participants cited different maladaptive behaviours to explain how they became homeless.

Alvin’s story is typical of:

Basically I started off as a bricklayer, … when the recession hit, there was an abundance of bricklayers so the prices went down in the bricklaying so basically with me having two young children and the only breadwinner in the family... so I had to kinda look for factory work and so I managed to get a job… somewhere else…. It was shift work like four 12 hour days, four 12 hour nights and six [days] off and stuff like that, you know, real hard shifts. My shift was starting Friday night and I’ll do Friday night, Saturday night to Monday night and then I was off Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but I’d treat that like me weekend you know because I’ve worked all weekend. Then… so I’d have a drink then and stuff like that, you know. 7 o’ clock on a Monday morning not really the time to be drinking, but I used to treat it like me weekend. So we argued, me and my ex-missus [wife], a little bit and in the end we split up so moved back to me mum's, but kept on with me job, I was at me mum’s for possibly about five years and but gradually the drinking got worse and worse, really bad. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. … I used to drink to get rid of the anxiety and also to numb the pain of the breakup of me marriage really, you know it wasn’t good, you know. One thing led to another and I just couldn’t stop me alcohol. I mean I’ve done drugs you know, I was into the rave scene and I’ve never done hard drugs like heroin or... I smoke cannabis and I use cocaine, and I used to go for a pint with me mates and that. It all came to a head about November/December time, you know it was like I either stop drinking or I had to move out of me mum's. I lost me job in the January through being over the limit in work from the night before uum so one thing led to another and I just had to leave. [Alvin]

Similarly, Gary identified alcohol as the main cause of his relationship breakdown. However, when one listens to the full story alcohol appears to be a manifestation of other issues, including financial insecurities and insecure attachment etc.

It [the process of becoming homeless] mainly started with the breakdown of the relationship with me partner. I was with her for 15 years and we always had somewhere to live but we didn't have kids till about 13 years into the relationship. The last two years when the kids come along, I had an injury to me ankle which stopped me from working. I was at home all day everyday. …I was drinking because I was bored. I started drinking a lot ‘cause I couldn't move bout the house. It was a really bad injury I had to me ankle. Um, and one day me and me partner were having this argument and I turned round and saw my little boy just stood there stiff as a board just staring, looking at us. And from that day on I just said to me partner that I'll move out, ‘cause I didn't want me little boy to be seeing this all the time. [Gary]

In both cases Gary and Alvin indicate that changes in their employment status created conditions that promoted alcohol dependency, though both explained that they drank alcohol before the changes in their employment status occurred and the breakdown of relationships. Both intimated that that their job commitment limited the amount of time available to drink alcohol. As Gary explained, it is the frequency and amount of alcohol drinking that changed as a result of change in their employment status:

I used to have a bit of a drink, but it wasn’t a problem because I used to get up in the morning and go out to work and enjoy a couple of beers every evening after a day’s work. Um, but then when I wasn't working I was drinking, and it just snowballed out, you know snowball effect, having four cans every evening and then it went from there. I was drinking more ‘cause I was depressed. I was very active before and then I became like non-active, not being able to do anything and in a lot of pain as well. [Gary]

Furthermore, although the participants claim that drinking alcohol was not a problem until their employment circumstances changed, one gets a sense that alcohol was partly responsible for creating conditions that resulted in the loss of their jobs. In Gary’s case, for example, alcohol increased his vulnerability to the assault and injuries that cost him his job:

I got assaulted, kicked down a flight of stairs. I landed on me back on the bottom of the stairs, but me heel hit the stairs as it was still going up if you know what I mean. Smashed me heel, fractured me heel… So, by the time I got to the hospital and they x-rayed it they wasn't even able to operate ‘cause it was in that many pieces, they weren't even able to pin it if you know what I mean. [Gary]

Alvin, of the other hand, explained that:

I lost my job in the January through being over the limit in work from the night before, uum so one thing led to another and I just had to leave. [Alvin]

In all cases participants appear to construct marriage breakdown as an exacerbating factor for their alcohol dependence. Danny, for example, constructed marriage breakdown as a condition that created his alcohol dependence and alcohol dependence as a cause of breakdown of his relationship with his parents. He explains:

I left school when I was 16. Straight away I got married, had children. I have three children and marriage was fine. Umm, I was married for 17 years. As the marriage broke up I turned to alcohol and it really, really got out of control. I moved in with my parents... It was unfair for them to put up with me; you know um in which I became... I ended up on the streets, this was about when I was 30, 31, something like that and ever since it's just been a real struggle to get some permanent accommodation. [Danny]

Danny goes on to explain:

Yes [I drank alcohol before marriage broke down but] not very heavily, just like a sociable drink after work. I'd call into like the local pub and have a few pints and it was controlled. My drinking habit was controlled then. I did go back to my parents after my marriage break up, yes. I was drinking quite heavily then. I suppose it was a form of release, you know, in terms of the alcohol which I wish I'd never had now. When I did start drinking heavy at me parents’ house, I was getting in trouble with the police being drunk and disorderly. That was unfair on them. [Danny]

The data in this study indicate that homelessness occurs when the relationships collapse, irrespective of the nature of the relationship. There were several cases where lifestyle behaviour led to a relationship collapse between child and parents or legal guardians.

In the next excerpt, Emily outlines the incidents: smoking weed, doing crack and heroin, and drinking alcohol. She also uses the words ‘because’, ‘when’ and ‘obviously’, which provide clues about the precipitating condition for her behaviours “spending long time with people who take drugs”.

I've got ADHD like, so obviously my mum kicked me out when I was 17 and then like I went to **Beswick** and stuff like that. My mum in the end just let me do what I wanted to do, ‘cause she couldn't cope anymore. …I mean I tried to run away from home before that, but she'd always like come after me in like her nightie and pyjamas and all that. But in the end she just washed her hands of me . [Emily]

Emily presented a complex factors that made it difficult for her mother to live with her. These included her mother struggle with raising four kids as a single parent, Emily’s mental health (ADHD], alcohol and drug use. She goes on to explain that:

Ummm, well the reason I got kicked out of my hostel was ‘cause of me drinking, so I'd get notice to quit every month, then I’d have a meeting with the main boss and then they'd overturn it and this went on every month for about six months. Also, it was me behaviour as well, but obviously drink makes you do stuff you don't normally do and all that shit. I lived here for six months, got kicked out because I jumped out the window and broke me foot. I was on the streets for six months and then they gave me a second chance and I've been here a year now. So that's it basically. [Emily]

There were several stories of being evicted from accommodation due to excessive use of alcohol. One of those is David:

I got put into foster care. When I left foster care I was put in the hostel, from there I turn into alcoholic. Then I was homeless all the time because I got kicked out of the hostels, because you are not allowed to drink in the hostel. It’s been going on now for about… I was thirty-one on Wednesday, so it’s been going on for about thirteen years, homeless on and off. Otherwise if not having shoplifted for food and then go to jail, and when I don’t drink I have lot of seizures and I end up in the hospital. Every time I end up on the street. I trained as a chef, I have not qualified yet, because of alcohol addiction, it didn’t go very well. I did couple of jobs in restaurants and diners, I got caught taking a drink. [David]

Contrary to the other incidents where alcohol was a factor that led to homelessness, Barry’s description of his story appears to suggest that the reason he had to leave his parents’ home was his parents’ perception that his sexuality brought shame to the family:

When I came out they I’m gay, my mum and dad said you can’t live here anymore. I lived in a wonderful place called Nordic... but fortunately, mum and dad ran a pub called […] [and] one of the next door neighbours lived in a mansion. His name was [….] [and] when I came out, he came out as in he said “I'm a gay guy”, but he took me into Liverpool and housed me because I had nowhere to live. My mum and dad said you can't live here anymore. And unfortunately, we get to the present day. I got attacked. I got mugged... only walked away with a £5 note, it’s all they could get off me. They nearly kicked me to death so I was in hospital for three weeks. By the time I came out, I got evicted from my flat. I was made homeless. [Barry]

We used the phrase “engaging in maladaptive behaviour” to conceptualise the behaviours that led to the loss of accommodation because our analysis appear to suggest that these behaviours were strategies to cope with the conditions they found themselves in. For example, all participants in this category explained that they drank alcohol to cope with multiple health (mental health) and social challenges.

In the UK adulthood homelessness is more visible than childhood homelessness. However, most participants in this research reveal that the process of becoming homeless begins at their childhood, but becomes visible after the legal age of consent (16). Participants described long history of trouble with people in authority including parents, legal guardians and teachers. However, at the age of 16 they gain legal powers to leave children homes, foster homes, parental homes and schools, and move outside some of the childhood legal protections. Their act of defiance becomes subject to interdiction by the criminal justice system. This is reflected in number of convictions for criminal offenses some of the participants in this study had.

Participants Ruddle, David, Lee, Emily, Pat, Marco, Henry and many other participants in this study (see Table 1 ) clearly traced the beginning of their troubles with authority back at school. They all expressed the belief that had their schooling experience been more supportive, their lives would have been different. Lee explains that being in trouble with the authorities began while he was at school:

‘The school I came from a rough school, it was a main school, it consisted of A, B, C, D and The school I came from [was] a rough school, it was a main school, it consisted of A, B, C, D and E. I was in the lowest set, I was in E because of my English and maths. I was not interested, I was more interested in going outside with big lads smoking weed, bunking school. I used to bunk school inside school. I used to bunk where all cameras can catch me. They caught me and reported me back to my parents. My mum had a phone call from school asking where your son is. My mum grounded me. While my mum grounded me I had a drain pipe outside my house, I climbed down the drain pipe outside my bedroom window. I used to climb back inside. [Lee]

Lee’s stories constructed his poor education experiences as a prime mover towards the process of becoming homeless. It could be noted in Table 1 that most participants who described poor education experiences came from institutions such as foster care, children home and special school for maladjusted children. These participants made a clear connection between their experiences of poor education characterised by defiance of authorities and poor life outcomes as manifested through homelessness.

Patrick made a distinct link between his school experience and his homelessness, for example, when asked to tell his story leading up to becoming homeless, Patrick’s response was:

I did not go to school because I kept on bunking. When I was fifteen I left school because I was caught robbing. The police took me home and my mum told me you’re not going back to school again, you are now off for good. Because if you go back to school you keep on thieving, she said I keep away from them lads. I said fair enough. When I was seventeen I got run over by a car. [Patrick]

Henry traces the beginning of his troubles with authorities back at school:

[My schooling experience]… was good, I got good, well average grades, until I got myself into [a] few fights mainly for self-defence. In primary schools, I had a pretty... I had a good report card. In the start of high school, it was good and then when the fights started that gave me sort of like a... bad reputation. I remember my principal one time made me cry. Actually made me cry, but eh... I don't know how, but I remember sitting there in the office and I was crying. My sister also stuck up for me when she found out what had happened, she was on my side; but I can’t remember exactly what happened at that time. [Henry]

Emily’s story provides some clues about the series of incidents - including, delay in diagnosing her health condition, being labelled as a naughty child at school, being regularly suspended from school and consequently poor educational attainment.

Obviously, I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD till I was like 13, so like in school they used to say that's just a naughty child. … So it was like always getting suspended, excluded and all that sort of stuff. And in the end [I] went to college and the same happened there. [Emily]

The excerpt above provides intimations of what she considers to be the underlying cause of her behaviour towards the authorities. Emily suggests that had the authorities taken appropriate intervention to address her condition, her life outcomes would have been different.

Although the next participant did not construct school as being a prime mover of their trouble with authorities, their serious encounters with the criminal justice system occurred shortly after leaving school:

Well I did a bit of time at a very early age, I was only 16… I did some remand there, but then when I went to court ‘cause I'd done enough remand, I got let out and went to YMCA in Runcorn. Well, that was when I was a kid. When I was a bit older, ‘cause it was the years 2000 that I was in jail, I was just trying to get by really. I wasn’t with Karen at the time. I was living in Crewe and at the time I was taking a lot of amphetamines and was selling amphetamines as well, and I got caught and got a custodial sentence for it. But I've never been back to jail since. I came out in the year 2000 so it's like 16 years I've kept meself away from jail and I don't have any intentions of going back. [Gary]

The move from school and children social care system to criminal justice was a common pathways for many participants in this study. Some including Lee, Crewe, David, Patrick spent multiple prison sentences (see Table 1 ). Although Crewe did not make connection between his schooling experiences and his trouble with law, it could be noted that his serious encounter with criminal justice system started shortly after leaving foster care and schooling systems. As he explains:

I was put into prison at age of 17 for arson that was a cry for help to get away from the family, I came out after nine months. I have been in prison four times in my life, its not very nice, when I came out I made a promise to myself that I’m never going to go back to prison again. [Crewe]

Lee recalls his education experience. He explained:

I left school when I was fifteen… then I went off the rails. I got kidnapped for three and half months. When I came back I was just more interested in crime. When I left school I was supposed to go to college, but I went with travellers. I was just more interested in getting arrested every weekend, until my mum say right I have enough of you. I was only seventeen. I went through the hostels when I was seventeen. [Lee]

None describe the educational experience with a similar profundity to Marco:

On few occasions I came out on the corridors I would be getting battered on to my hands and knees and teachers walk pass me. There was quite often blood on the floor from my nose, would be punched on my face and be thrown on the floor. …. It was hard school, pernicious. I would go as far as saying I never felt welcome in that school, I felt like a fish out of the water, being persistently bullied did my head in. Eventually I started striking back, when I started striking back suddenly I was a bad one. My mother decided to put me in … school for maladjusted boys, everyone who been there including myself have spent time in prison. [Marco]

The trouble with authorities that was observes in participants stories in this category appear to be part of the wider adverse social challenges that the participants in this study were facing. Crewe’s description of arson as a cry for help appears to be an appropriate summation of all participants in this category.

The participants’ description of the social conditions in which were raised and their references to maladaptive behaviours which led to them becoming homeless, led us to conclude that they believe that their social condition affected their life chances: that these conditions were responsible for their low quality of social connections, poor educational attainment, insecure employment and other reduced life opportunities available to them.

The key feature that distinguish this study from comparable previous studies is that it openly acknowledges that data collection and analysis were influenced by the principles of social justice [ 28 , 30 , 31 ]. The resulting theoretical explanation therefore constitutes our interpretation of the meanings that participants ascribe to their own situations and actions in their contexts. In this study, defining homelessness within the wider socioeconomic context seemed to fit the data, and offered one interpretation of the process of becoming homeless.

While the participants’ experiences leading to becoming homeless may sound trite. What is pertinent in this study is understanding the conditions within which their behaviours occurred. The data were examined through the lens of social justice and socio-economic inequalities: we analysed the social context within which these behaviours occurred. We listened to accounts of their schooling experiences, how they were raised and their social network. The intention was not to propose a cause-and-effect association, but to suggest that interventions to mitigate homelessness should consider the social conditions within which it occurred.

Participants in this study identified substance misuse and alcohol dependency as a main cause of their homelessness. These findings are consistent with several epidemiological studies that reported a prevalence of substance misuse amongst the homeless people [ 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 ]. However, most these studies are epidemiological; and by nature epidemiological studies are the ‘gold standard’ in determining causes and effects, but do not always examine the context within which the cause and effect occur. One qualitative study that explored homelessness was a Canadian study by Watson, Crawley and Cane [ 37 ]. Participants in the Watson, et al. described ‘lack of quality social interactions and pain of addition. However, Watson et al. focus on the experiences of being homeless, rather than the life experiences leading to becoming homeless. To our knowledge the current study is one of very few that specifically examine the conditions within which homelessness occurs, looking beyond the behavioural factors. Based on the synthesis of data from previous studies, it makes sense that many interventions to mitigate homelessness focus more on tackling behavioural causes of homelessness rather than fundamental determinants of it [ 38 ]. From the public health intervention’ point of view, however, understanding the conditions within which homelessness occurs is essential, as it will encourage policymakers and providers of the services for homelessness people to devote equal attention to tackling the fundamental determinants of homelessness as is granted in dealing behavioural causes.

Participants in this study reported that they have been defiant toward people in positions of authority. For most of them this trouble began when they were at school, and came to the attention of the criminal justice system as soon as they left school at the age of 16. These findings are similar to these in the survey conducted by Williams, Poyser, and Hopkins [ 39 ] which was commissioned by the UK Ministry of Justice. This survey found that 15 % of prisoners in the sample reported being homeless before custody [ 39 ]; while three and a half percent of the general population reported having ever been homeless [ 39 ]. As the current study reveals there are three possible explanations for the increased population of homeless young people in the criminal justice system: first, at the age of 16 they gain legal powers to leave their foster homes, parents homes, and schools and move beyond some of the childhood legal protections; second, prior to the age of 16 their defiant behaviours were controlled and contained by schools and parents/legal guardians; and third, after the age of 16 their acts of defiant behaviour become subject to interdiction by the criminal justice system.

The conditions in which they were born and raised were described by some participants in this study as ‘chaotic’, abusive’, ‘neglect’, ‘pernicious’ ‘familial instability’, ‘foster care’, ‘care home’, etc. Taking these conditions, and the fact that all but one participants in this left school at or before the age of 16 signifies the importance of living conditions in educational achievement. It has been reported in previous studies that children growing up in such conditions struggle to adjust in school and present with behavioural problems, and thus, poor academic performance [ 40 ]. It has also been reported that despite these families often being known to social services, criminal justice systems and education providers, the interventions in place do little to prevent homelessness [ 40 ].

Analysis of the conditions within which participants’ homelessness occurred reveals the adverse social conditions within which they were born and raised. The conditions they described included being in an abusive environment, poor education, poor employment or unemployment, poor social connections and low social cohesion. These conditions are consistent with high index of poverty [ 37 , 41 , 42 ]. And several other studies found similar associations between poverty and homelessness [ 42 ]. For example, the study by Watson, Crowley et al. [ 37 ] found that there were extreme levels of poverty and social exclusion amongst homeless people. Contrary to previous studies that appear to construct homelessness as a major form of social exclusion, the analysis of participants’ stories in this current study revealed that the conditions they were raised under limited their capacity to engage in meaningful social interactions, thus creating social exclusion.

Homeless people describe the immediate behavioural causes of homelessness; however, this analysis revealed the social and economic conditions within which homelessness occurred. The participants’ descriptions of the social conditions in which were raised and their references to maladaptive behaviours which led to them becoming homeless, led us to conclude that they believe that their social condition affected their life chances: that these conditions were responsible for their low quality of social connections, poor educational attainment, insecure employment and other reduced life opportunities available to them.


The conclusions drawn relate only to the social and economic context of the participants in this study, and therefore may not be generalised to the wider population; nor can they be immediately applied in a different context. It has to be acknowledged that the method of recruitment of the 26 participants generates a bias in favour of those willing to talk. The methodology used in this study (constructivist grounded theory) advocates mutual construction of knowledge, which means that the researchers’ understanding and interpretations may have had some influence on the research process as the researchers are an integral part of the data collection and analysis

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The authors wish to thank all participants in this study; without their contribution it would not have been possible to undertake the research. The authors acknowledge the contribution of Professor Paul Kingston and Professor Basma Ellahi at the proposal stage of this project. A very special thanks to Robert Whitehall, John and all the staff at the centres for homeless people for their help in creating a conducive environment for this study to take place; and to Roger Whiteley for editorial support. A very special gratitude goes to the reviewers of this paper, who will have expended considerable effort on our behalf. 

This research was funded by quality-related research (QR) funding allocation for the University of Chester.

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The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available due to ethical restriction and privacy of participant data but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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MM wrote the entire manuscript, designed the study, collected data, analysed and interpreted data, and presented the findings. AY contributed to transcribing data and manuscript editing. MG contributed to data collection, and transcribed the majority of data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Mabhala, M.A., Yohannes, A. & Griffith, M. Social conditions of becoming homelessness: qualitative analysis of life stories of homeless peoples. Int J Equity Health 16 , 150 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-017-0646-3

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  • Homeless People
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  • Behavioral Causes

International Journal for Equity in Health

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According to recent studies, about 150 million people worldwide are homeless. It is estimated that another 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing conditions. This means that about 20% of the world's population suffers from poor housing conditions, homelessness or from the danger of becoming homeless. Poverty is a big reason when it comes to homelessness. If people have debts and don't have a suitable job to pay them off, they may lose their homes as they won't be able […]

Mental Illness is One Type of Homelessness

'Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings', an unforgettable quote by the man himself Nelson Mandela. For his fight against racial prejudice and apartheid, Nelson leaves a towering legacy that will be recalled for generations to come. But, today's world is pervaded with the good and the evil. There are those that assist to keep a relatively-stable society; and then there are those who just […]

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How To Write an Essay About Homelessness

Understanding the complexity of homelessness.

Before beginning an essay on homelessness, it's essential to understand its complexity. Homelessness is not just the absence of physical housing but is often intertwined with issues like poverty, mental health, substance abuse, and social exclusion. Start your essay by defining homelessness, which may vary from sleeping rough on the streets to living in temporary shelters or inadequate housing. It's also important to acknowledge the different demographics affected by homelessness, such as veterans, families, the youth, and the chronically homeless. This foundational understanding sets the stage for a nuanced discussion in your essay.

Researching and Gathering Data

An essay on homelessness should be grounded in factual, up-to-date data. Research statistics from reliable sources such as government reports, reputable NGOs, and academic studies. This research might include figures on the number of homeless individuals in a specific region, the primary causes of homelessness, and the effectiveness of various intervention programs. By presenting well-researched information, your essay will not only be more credible but will also provide a factual basis for your arguments.

Selecting a Specific Angle

Homelessness is a broad topic, so it's crucial to select a specific angle for your essay. You might choose to focus on the causes of homelessness, the challenges faced by homeless individuals, or the societal impact of homelessness. Alternatively, you could discuss policy solutions and interventions that have been successful or have failed. This focus will provide your essay with a clear direction and allow you to explore a particular aspect of homelessness in depth.

Analyzing Causes and Effects

A key part of your essay should be dedicated to analyzing the causes and effects of homelessness. Discuss various factors that lead to homelessness, such as economic downturns, lack of affordable housing, family breakdown, and mental health issues. Similarly, explore the impact of homelessness on individuals and society, like health problems, social isolation, and economic costs. This analysis will help readers understand the multifaceted nature of the problem.

Discussing Solutions and Conclusions

Towards the end of your essay, discuss potential solutions to homelessness. This could include government policies, community-based initiatives, or innovative approaches like housing-first models. Highlight the importance of a multi-faceted approach, addressing not just the lack of housing but also underlying issues like health care, education, and employment support. Conclude your essay by summarizing the key points discussed, restating the importance of addressing homelessness, and suggesting areas for future research or action.

Finalizing Your Essay

After writing your essay, take the time to review and refine it. Ensure that your arguments are coherent and supported by evidence. Check for grammatical errors and ensure that your writing is clear and concise. It might also be beneficial to get feedback from peers or instructors. A well-written essay on homelessness will not only inform but also potentially inspire action or further discussion on this critical social issue.

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Poverty — Homelessness

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Essays on Homelessness

Homelessness essay topics and outline examples, essay title 1: homelessness in america: root causes, consequences, and strategies for solutions.

Thesis Statement: This essay examines the multifaceted issue of homelessness in America, identifying its underlying causes, analyzing its social and economic consequences, and proposing comprehensive strategies for addressing and preventing homelessness.

  • Introduction
  • Defining Homelessness: A Complex and Diverse Challenge
  • Root Causes of Homelessness: Poverty, Housing Affordability, and Mental Health
  • The Human Toll: Health, Safety, and Vulnerability of Homeless Individuals
  • Governmental and NGO Initiatives: Shelters, Services, and Support Systems
  • Housing First Approach: Providing Stable Housing as a Foundation for Recovery
  • Prevention and Advocacy: Collaborative Efforts to Combat Homelessness

Essay Title 2: Hidden in Plain Sight: Exploring the Lives of Homeless Youth and Their Struggles for Stability

Thesis Statement: This essay focuses on the often-overlooked issue of youth homelessness, delving into the unique challenges faced by homeless young people, the factors contributing to their predicament, and the importance of specialized support and intervention programs.

  • The Invisible Crisis: Understanding the Scope of Youth Homelessness
  • Causes of Youth Homelessness: Family Dynamics, LGBTQ+ Youth, and Foster Care
  • Survival on the Streets: Vulnerabilities and Exploitation
  • Education and Future Prospects: Overcoming Barriers to Stability
  • Innovative Solutions: Transitional Housing, Mentorship, and Education Programs
  • Advocacy and Awareness: Mobilizing Support for Homeless Youth

Essay Title 3: Homelessness and Mental Health: The Interplay of Vulnerabilities, Stigmatization, and Access to Care

Thesis Statement: This essay explores the intricate relationship between homelessness and mental health issues, examining the challenges faced by homeless individuals with mental illness, the stigmatization they endure, and the importance of accessible mental health services.

  • Homelessness as a Consequence and Contributor to Mental Illness
  • Stigmatization and Discrimination: The Dual Burden of Homelessness and Mental Health Challenges
  • Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Services: A Critical Gap in Care
  • Models of Integrated Care: Collaborative Approaches to Addressing Mental Health Needs
  • Community Support and Rehabilitation: Empowering Homeless Individuals on the Path to Recovery
  • Policy and Advocacy: Promoting Systemic Change and Mental Health Equity

Class Conflict Theory of Homelessness

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Homelessness and Its Effects on Children

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The Problems Caused by Homelessness and Ways to Solve Them

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Homelessness refers to a complex societal issue characterized by individuals or families lacking stable, safe, and adequate housing. It encompasses a state of not having a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, which often leads to individuals residing in temporary shelters, transitional housing, or public spaces not intended for human habitation.

Homelessness remains a significant issue in the United States, with a complex set of factors contributing to its prevalence today. Despite efforts to address the problem, homelessness continues to affect individuals and communities across the country. In the US, homelessness is influenced by a combination of economic, social, and systemic factors. Economic inequality, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental health issues, and substance abuse are among the primary contributors to homelessness. Additionally, systemic issues such as systemic racism and discrimination can disproportionately affect marginalized communities, leading to higher rates of homelessness among minority populations. Efforts to combat homelessness involve a range of strategies, including emergency shelters, transitional housing, and supportive services. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and community initiatives play crucial roles in providing assistance, outreach, and advocacy for the homeless population. However, challenges persist in addressing homelessness effectively. The scarcity of affordable housing, limited access to mental health services, and gaps in social support systems continue to hinder progress. Additionally, the recent economic downturns and the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated the issue, leading to an increase in homelessness in certain areas.

In the early stages of civilization, homelessness was often a consequence of natural disasters, wars, or displacement due to economic or political upheavals. However, with the rise of urbanization and industrialization, homelessness took on a new dimension. The growth of cities and the widening wealth gap led to overcrowded slums and impoverished conditions, pushing many individuals and families into homelessness. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, mass unemployment and economic collapse resulted in a significant increase in homelessness. The government response to the crisis led to the establishment of social welfare programs and the construction of public housing. In subsequent decades, the deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities, the decline in affordable housing, and the impact of structural inequality further contributed to the persistence of homelessness.

Street/Homeless Shelter: This is the most visible form of homelessness, where individuals lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. They often live in public spaces, such as streets, parks, or makeshift shelters, or rely on emergency shelters for temporary accommodation. Hidden/Homeless Families: This form of homelessness includes families or individuals who do not have a permanent home but seek temporary accommodation with friends, family, or in motels. They may double up with other households or live in overcrowded conditions. Chronic Homelessness: This category refers to individuals who experience long-term or repeated episodes of homelessness. They may struggle with multiple complex issues, such as mental health disorders, substance abuse, and lack of stable employment. Youth Homelessness: Young people who do not have a safe and stable place to live fall into this category. Veteran Homelessness: This refers to veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Factors such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lack of social support, and difficulties transitioning to civilian life contribute to their housing instability.

1. Poverty and Lack of Affordable Housing 2. Unemployment and Low Income 3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues 4. Domestic Violence 5. Family and Relationship Breakdowns 6. Systemic Factors

1. Health Challenges 2. Education and Employment Barriers 3. Social Isolation and Stigma 4. Increased Risk of Victimization 5. Economic Burden

Film: "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006) is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, who faces homelessness while trying to provide for his young son. The film portrays the challenges faced by a single father and sheds light on the experiences of homelessness. Documentaries: "Dark Days" (2000) directed by Marc Singer captures the lives of people living in an underground tunnel in New York City. The documentary provides an intimate and raw portrayal of the daily struggles and resilience of those experiencing homelessness. News Coverage: News outlets often cover stories related to homelessness, showcasing the experiences of individuals and the impact on communities. They shed light on policy issues, challenges faced by homeless individuals, and initiatives aimed at addressing the issue. Photography: Numerous photographers have documented the lives of people living on the streets, capturing their humanity and the harsh realities they face. Notable photographers like Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, and Lee Jeffries have produced impactful images that challenge stereotypes and elicit empathy.

1. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on any given night, over half a million people experience homelessness in the United States. 2. Youth homelessness is a significant issue, with an estimated 4.2 million young people experiencing homelessness each year in the United States. 3. Approximately 35% of the homeless population in the U.S. consists of families with children, highlighting the impact of homelessness on families and the need for support systems. 4. Chronic homelessness, defined as long-term or repeated homelessness, affects around 25% of the overall homeless population. 5. Veterans are disproportionately affected by homelessness. On a single night in January 2020, an estimated 37,252 veterans experienced homelessness in the United States. 6. The cost of homelessness is significant. Studies have shown that providing housing and support services to individuals experiencing chronic homelessness can be more cost-effective than leaving them on the streets, as it reduces costs associated with emergency healthcare, incarceration, and other public services.

The topic of homelessness is of utmost importance to explore and address in an essay due to its profound impact on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Understanding the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to homelessness is crucial in fostering empathy, raising awareness, and driving meaningful change. Writing an essay about homelessness allows us to shed light on the underlying factors that contribute to homelessness, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, mental health issues, and systemic inequalities. By examining these root causes, we can challenge societal norms and advocate for social policies that address homelessness effectively. Additionally, exploring the effects of homelessness on individuals and communities helps us recognize the immense hardships faced by those experiencing homelessness, including physical and mental health challenges, social isolation, and limited access to education and employment opportunities. This understanding can cultivate compassion and inspire action to provide support, resources, and pathways to stability for those in need. Moreover, discussing the topic of homelessness encourages us to consider innovative solutions, such as affordable housing initiatives, supportive services, and community-based programs. By analyzing successful interventions and best practices, we can contribute to the ongoing efforts aimed at preventing and alleviating homelessness.

1. Lee, B. A., Tyler, K. A., & Wright, J. D. (2010). The new homelessness revisited. Annual review of sociology, 36, 501-521. (https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-115940) 2. Hwang, S. W. (2001). Homelessness and health. Cmaj, 164(2), 229-233. (https://www.cmaj.ca/content/164/2/229.short) 3. Waldron, J. (1991). Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom. UCLA L. Rev., 39, 295. (https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/uclalr39&div=16&id=&page=) 4. McCarthy, B., & Hagan, J. (1991). Homelessness: A criminogenic situation?. The British Journal of Criminology, 31(4), 393-410. (https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article-abstract/31/4/393/498747) 5. Hopper, K. (2015). Reckoning with homelessness. In Reckoning with Homelessness. Cornell University Press. (https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.7591/9780801471612/html?lang=en) 6. Gaetz, S., O'Grady, B., Kidd, S., & Schwan, K. (2016). Without a home: The national youth homelessness survey. (https://policycommons.net/artifacts/2237953/without-a-home/2996006/) 7. Gelberg, L., Linn, L. S., Usatine, R. P., & Smith, M. H. (1990). Health, homelessness, and poverty: a study of clinic users. Archives of Internal Medicine, 150(11), 2325-2330. (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/614142) 8. Bassuk, E. L. (2010). Ending child homelessness in America. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(4), 496. (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-25070-006) 9. Quigley, J. M., Raphael, S., & Smolensky, E. (2001). Homeless in America, homeless in California. Review of Economics and Statistics, 83(1), 37-51. (https://direct.mit.edu/rest/article-abstract/83/1/37/57244/Homeless-in-America-Homeless-in-California) 10. Bowdler, J. E. (1989). Health problems of the homeless in America. The Nurse Practitioner, 14(7), 44-47. (https://europepmc.org/article/med/2748030)

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homelessness research paper example

The Causes and Impacts of Homelessness Research Paper


Homeless families and individuals live without adequate shelters and basic needs. The homeless is a category of people who face severe forms of economic and social conditions. There are hardly any homeless conditions that do not compromise human health or complicate their ability to access basic needs including, food, health, education and financial services.

The homeless individuals with mental illnesses particularly face a higher risk or becoming casualties of some unlawful acts. The risk factors related to homelessness commonly happen concurrently with other societal factors such as intolerance, poverty and unemployment. For example, the homeless people are denied access to formal education, health care, banking facilities and are exposed to crime and abuse among others.

Liberalists argue that homelessness results from the general nature and the poor economic structures and the manner in which finances and resources are distributed in the society (Hurley, 2002). The liberalists claim that the poor economies cause unemployment making it difficult for the affected individuals to pay for housing and other essential services.

Conversely, the conservatives view the homeless as deserving and lazy individuals given to drug addiction and as people who should not be offered any help. Conservatives believe that the society should not intervene in the conditions of the homeless population. Some extremists go to an extent of preventing people from offering help to the homeless population. They claim that many cases of homelessness occur due to personal faults and that the individuals ought to blame themselves for their condition (Hurley, 2002).

Homelessness predominantly occurs in the developing countries and cities such as Cairo and Tunis where material resources are often insufficient and underdeveloped. The increase in homelessness in the developed countries usually indicates the uneven distribution of national resources.

This is particularly evident in countries such as Canada and the United States. The condition is basically a consequence of the increasing poverty levels and lack of affordable housing which arise due to many other factors including the rise in the cost of rental housing.

This paper seeks to address homelessness as a major problem experienced in both the developed and underdeveloped nations. It then highlights the severe impacts of homelessness to individuals and the society at large. The paper then gives significant comparison between the different ideologies regarding homelessness including the liberal, conservative and extremist viewpoints. The paper also emphasizes on the major similarities and differences between homelessness in the developed and developing countries.

Background to Homelessness

Several definitions are used to give the meaning of homelessness. According to Tipple & Speak (2010), homelessness can be described as a housing situation that does not satisfy the minimum housing standard for an individual or a group of individuals for a period of time, exposing the affected individuals to risks and unfavorable circumstances including poor shelter, lack of food and other basic needs (p. 50).

The term home is an important concept that represents the ideas of identity, belonging, security, comfort and so on. A home provides an environment where an individual is able to set up important social relations with other people through accommodating them in his or her own premise or where the individual is able to choose not to relate to others if he or she decides to do so.

It could also refer to a place or an area where an individual is able to identify the space as his or her own property and where he is able to manage its shape and form. In the past, homelessness was described as lack of the right or freedom to gain access to secure and simply adequate housing.


According to Thompson (2007) there are between 100 million and 1 billion homeless people in the world. In 1987, the number of homeless people in Canada was between 100,000 and 250,000 out of a total population of 28 million people (Hargrave, 2005). There are, however, no accurate statistics of the homeless people in Canada.

Canada’s National Secretariat on homelessness recently estimated the number of Canadians who are homeless as 150,000. Other reports give higher figures of up to 300,000 people. This lack of accurate data limits Canada’s ability to address the problem (Guest, 1997).

Causes of homelessness in Toronto Canada

The CBC news census report has recently approximated that there are about 5060 homeless individuals on the streets and across the city of Toronto Canada. The homeless population in Toronto includes both the people living in the streets and those who risk becoming homeless. In 1996 approximately 26000 persons used the shelter system in the city of Toronto over the last ten years.

Over 200000 individuals remain homeless in Canada. The increase in homelessness is strongly linked to the rising poverty levels and lack of affordable housing. The number of individuals living in extreme poverty has increased and over forty percent of individuals are children.

The main significant reasons behind the prevailing poverty include the eroding jobs and employment opportunities as well as the decreasing wages of large segments of the workforce and the reduced public assistance.

Canadian cities were considered to offer good health services, quality education and sufficient and reliable employment programs. However these have gradually faded away leading to the rise in the homeless population (Leo, 2005).

Lack of affordable housing

Homelessness is fundamentally caused by lack of housing that can be afforded by the poor individuals in Toronto. The accommodation that the poor persons can afford has not profited many in the large cities such as Vancouver and Toronto. The low rental buildings have not been created for a long time.

Many developers in Toronto together with other cities claim that construction of the low income rental apartments creates low profit and has compelled many residents of the Canadian city to choose older, inadequate and deteriorating housing. The cost of refurbishing this type of housing is unaffordable and often surpasses the market cost of the home (Leo, 2005). This has led to a severe shortage of the affordable housing.

Even though the population has drastically improved since the year 1996, in 2001, there were approximately over one million Canadians and city residents staying in homes they could not afford. In Toronto, today, nearly one in every five households experience affordability difficulties and the number is much greater in the inner cities that have worsened housing stocks with disproportionate and impoverished populations combined (Leo, 2005).


Several mentally ill individuals have been abandoned on the streets of Toronto and other major cities. This was particularly one of the main causes of homeless in the early 1980s. The failure by the government to maintain social support programs during the late 1970s led to the creation of health care programs to support the mentally ill patients.

Lack of sufficient funding and financial support to the health care programs however led to their ineffectiveness in taking care of the vulnerable individuals. The individuals with mental health problems have therefore been abandoned and left with no alternative other than spend their livelihood on the streets (Leo, 2005).

Tenants are regularly evicted from rental apartments for minimal rent arrears. About eighty percent of eviction applications for arrears are much below one thousand dollars or an average monthly rent.

Approximately seven hundred eviction applicants annually in Toronto are against tenants who do not owe anything but are supposed to have been indefatigably late in the past.

In several instances, in Toronto, the tenants are evicted when the Landlord owes the tenant some funds when the arrears are less than the deposit paid by the tenant at the start of the tenancy to cover the rent for the last month. The landlords have obtained greater incentives to eject tenants by means of rent decontrol which enables the landlords to raise the rent to any value once the tenants have been ejected and when a new tenancy is established. All these have resulted in homelessness each year.

Thousands of persons including children and adults are evicted regularly. Children are forced to terminate their schooling and their emotional and physical health is put at a great risk. There have also been forced evictions of the communities of the homeless individuals from squatter communities in the Canadian cities.

Many households have been dislocated from low income communities in Toronto. Most recently, for example communities of homeless persons have started to organize squatter households and communities and have faced fierce evictions from the police. Instead of getting some assistance from the government it has appeared to tolerate the eviction efforts.

A single mother in Toronto city, depending on some social support and not able to pay rent with an allowance of the average rent is compulsorily ejected by a uniformed individual and abandoned on the street with all her properties and the children. No one gets concerned to ask the evictees whether they have an alternative place to move to. Regardless of the weather conditions or environmental hazards, hundreds of individuals in the Canadian cities continue to be evicted as part of implementing the rule of law in the country.

Political decisions by city councils increase homelessness in Canada

Definition and approaches to homelessness in Canada reshaped by several political ideologies. The local governmental policy design, develop and execute public policies at all levels of the Canadian government. Knowledge generators, decision makers and knowledge brokers interact to enhance the rationality of the policy making process by means of policy analysis techniques (Levinson, 2004).

Local city mayors and city councils are seen as decision makers, research institutes and academics. The analytical frameworks are however often mismatched with the local policy analysis process because of the underdeveloped nature or absence of the knowledge generators and brokers in many of the municipalities.

Canada’s few urban academics could not probably act as knowledge generators for thousands of the municipalities. Where local interests are often dominant, they are hardly ever long-lived, organized or based on more than emotive responses to local policy problems. These factors have led to increased level of homelessness in the largest Canadian cities (Bistrich, 1999).

Unemployment and inadequate funds

Joblessness has landed many people into financial difficulties, causing them to be evicted and harassed by landlords from their places of residence. Mortgage arrears are said to significantly contribute to the homeless conditions. According to Bistrich (1999), some of the homeless are evicted by their landlords for rent overdue or conflict. Unemployment is the main cause of homelessness. In Toronto, job losses and layoffs have highly contributed to increased homelessness (Hargrave, 2005).

Family Breakdown

The several cases of racism, stigma and social segregation have seriously contributed to family breakdown in Canada, rendering many people homeless. Many women and children have been left homeless due to divorce or when they desert their families due to matters relating to sexual harassment (Guest, 1997)

Substance abuse

Drug abuse has been regarded as a major pathway to homelessness in the developing and developed countries. In Canada, the affected individuals remain without financial support. An assessment of some samples of families in Canada has recently revealed that families with substance abuse disorders are more likely to remain homeless than those without.

In his article, Bistrich (1999) showed that about 30% of the homeless people were raised in children’s homes or by parents who are psychologically unstable. Some of the homeless children were raised by alcoholic parents. Another 20 to 30 % have a criminal background or have been jailed in the past. These contribute to the rise in homelessness.

Solutions to homelessness

Shelters and drop-ins.

A community based health care organization referred to as Street health in Toronto was founded in 1980s when a number of homeless individuals identified obstacles to accessing good health care and some nurses responded by providing local drop-in health services. The street health program has greatly expanded and today it provides a variety of programs and services for the homeless persons including marginalized and mentally ill individuals in Toronto city.

Other programs organized and managed by the street health institutions include HIV/AIDS prevention, identification and replacement, nursing care as well as street outreach and harm reduction programs.

The street health institutions have acknowledged the need to obtain data and to carry out research in order to build up frontline services and to construct sound evidence grounds upon which to form its advocacy efforts. Street health engages in research partnerships and carries out community based research on the significant subjects relating to the homeless community (Kirst, Schaefer-McDaniel & Hwang, 2010).

Supportive Housing

Various models of supportive housing have been used to emphasize the provision and protection of secure and non-profit housing that matches with the community development besides providing medical and psychological support programs.

The supportive housing has been used in Toronto and other large Canadian cities to provide housing coupled with the services for the individuals regarded as susceptible to homelessness or marginalized and to help them live independently.

The different forms of supportive housing differ greatly ranging from institutional arrangements for independent self-contained or shared accommodation programs.

The services may be provided on-site by independent organizations or community agencies in partnership with the housing institutions. Residents who need medical attention and services, employment and life skills training including the youth, women, and people with disabilities benefit from the supportive housing programs (Kirst, Schaefer-McDaniel & Hwang, 2010).

Government intervention

The Canadian federal administration and department of human resources develops homelessness initiatives that employ special strategies to help communities to plan long-term solutions to the matters relating to homelessness. In September the year 2010 for example the Canadian chamber of commerce backed up a policy declaration of the annual conference demanding for reallocation of the federal grant

The homeless diversion programs

The rooming house monitoring project was formed in Toronto in the year 1992 as an initiative to enhance the conditions and care in privately owned houses and to people shift to independent living in a rooming house. The project aims at upgrading substandard buildings and targets the vulnerable individuals living in the private rooming houses especially the mentally ill (Fierman, et al, 1991).

The project monitoring demands that the landlords should enter into an operating agreement with the project detailing the food, physical and personal care standards that have to be maintained. The landlords meet frequently with the monitors and tenants and plan menus as they develop relations and trust between the landlords and the tenants.

The range of support services assists the tenants to become more independent and take responsibility for their assistance rather than convey them to the landlords. Project caseworkers meet with households at the income maintenance office in the neighborhood. The team explores all potential housing options including staying with friends or relatives ensuring that the families obtain or apply all the benefits for which they are eligible (Bibars, 1998).

Community employment and enterprise development

One of the common attribute of the homeless individuals is that many of them face chronic poverty. Many initiatives have been used to create employment opportunities to help the homeless individuals to regain confidence and self esteem in their personal abilities. Many of the organizations manage to create their own enterprises to the point of self-reliance. Rideau Street Youth Initiative in Ottawa is an example which involves the improvement of downtown region.

Impact of Homelessness on Cities and Society

Challenges in controlling children.

Single parents experience the psychological challenge of being homeless and a greater challenge of raising their children without the essential basic needs. In some cities, homeless parents have reported difficulty in controlling their children. There is increased conflict between children in temporary shelters than experienced by those in regular homes.

Children do not understand the dramatic events and are therefore psychologically affected by the distress (Zima, et al, 1994). Children born to homeless parents find it difficult to survive. Most of them die within the first twelve months (Fierman, et al, 1991). Academic development of homeless children is also disadvantaged. They perform poorly in schools because of the mobility challenges. Most of them change schools at least twice a year (Guest, 1997).

Sexual abuse

The young and adult females are driven into marital and domestic servitude, making them susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to YWCA Canada press release (13 March 2012), in Canadian cities, 25-30 % of the people living in the streets and in shelters are women, and teenage girls make up one-third of the homeless youth in urban centers. When women and girls are homeless, they are more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Some young homeless women end up in prostitution (Guest, 1997)

Poor health

Homelessness complicates an individual’s access to proper health care services, exposing them to poor health conditions. It perpetuates the unfavorable health conditions by obstructing an individual’s effort to treat and prevent diseases. The physical health of homeless people weakens because of exposure to the harsh environmental conditions. They suffer from respiratory diseases because of cold at night. Sometimes exposure to harsh weather condition leads to death (Zima, et al, 1994).

Increases rate of crime

Young people run away from home due to various forms of abuse such as sexual harassment. While on the streets, the homeless become exposed to the danger of participating in criminal activities such as robbery. This affects the society because it creates a great sense of insecurity and becomes a threat to the lives of the people who reside in the regions (Zima, et al, 1994).

Public Health challenge

At the extreme end of poverty, many individuals and families crowd the streets due to lack of housing. The social impact is that the overcrowding in refugee camps and on the streets exposes the affected individuals and the society to the dangers of getting new infections and diseases.

Children suffer serious health issues and experience more complications. This later creates an unemployable class of individuals with weakened coping capabilities and who cannot offer the slightest social and physical support to the community (Zima, et al, 1994).

Creates economic complexities

Funding homeless shelters, refugee camps and medical facilities are often very expensive. The taxpayers’ funds are used to fund the programs. This, in a way causes the federal government to direct a significant amount of funds toward the services aimed at taking care of the homeless.

Affects tourism

Many tourists make efforts to avoid a few small areas for example when booking rooms. They will for instance choose to avoid regions for panhandling teenagers and high poverty areas.

Ideological Approaches to Homelessness

Liberal and conservative ideologies on homelessness.

Liberals perceive homelessness as a consequence of poor organization and weak economic standing of a country. Thus, the people faced with the challenge do not receive adequate services and facilities such as housing and good health care. In contrast, the conservatives claim that homelessness is a result of laziness and involvement in other evils in the society (Hurley, 2002). Hence, they desist from supporting the homeless.

Difference between homeless in developed and developing world

Correct data/census information.

Many developing countries do not have the correct figures of their homeless and therefore cannot carry out proper planning to support them. Though the contrary is not always true in developed countries, most of them experience different types of homelessness and have the right statistics for the homeless (Guest, 1997).

Social and health conditions

Unlike in developed countries, homeless people in the developing world face all kinds of social abuses. They are evicted, arrested, harassed and abused (Bibars, 1998). They are often victims of crimes. In the developing world, homeless people are not given temporary accommodation. They spend time on the streets begging and asking for food and clothing (Zima, B. T. et al, 1994).

In developing countries, homeless people do not access health facilities like those in developed countries. Most developed countries have mobile clinics specifically for the homeless people. They are often provided with shelter by local authorities in industrialized countries. This is not the often case in developing countries. Homelessness in developing countries is caused by failure of housing supply systems to address the needs of the rapidly growing urban population (Springer, 2000).


The impact of homelessness is severe especially for women and children. The situation can be reduced if authorities develop relevant policies which cater for the poor and the homeless in the society. Some cities have developed plans to ensure that in the next few years there will be no homeless individuals (Watson and Austenberry, 1986). For example, Calgary has significantly reduced homelessness through strategies such as providing affordable housing and providing better support services for the people who move into the homes.

Bibars, I. (1998). Street children in Egypt: from home to street to inappropriate institutions, environment and urbanization . Share International. (10), pp. 201 – 216.

Bistrich, A. (1999). Homelessness in Germany, the visible form of true poverty . Web.

Fierman, A. H. et al. (1991). Growth delay in homeless children. Pediatrics, 88, pp. 918-925.

Guest, D. (1997). The Emergence of Social Security in Canada, (3rd ed.). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Hargrave, C. (2005). Homelessness in Canada: from housing to shelters to blankets . Web.

Hurley, J. (2002 ). The homeless: opposing viewpoints . San Diego: Greenhaven Press.

Kirst, M., Schaefer-McDaniel, N., & Hwang, S.(2010). Converging disciplines: a transdisciplinary research approach to urban health problems. New York: Springer. pp.60-100.

Leo, C. (2005). The federal government and homelessness: community initiative or dictation from above? Toronto: Canadian Centre Policy Alternatives. pp.5-20.

Levinson, D. (2004) Encyclopedia of homelessness. London: SAGE. pp.50-100.

Springer, S. (2000). Homelessness: a proposal for a global definition and classification . Atlanta, GA: Habitat International. pp. 475 – 484.

Thompson, D. (2007). What do the published figures tell us about homelessness in Australia, Sydney : Australian journal of social issues 32(3). pp. 102-315.

Tipple, G., & Speak. (2010). The hidden millions: homelessness in developing countries. London: Routledge.pp.50-100.

Watson, S., & Austenberry, H. (1986). Housing and homelessness: a feminist perspective. London: Routledge.pp.25-150.

Zima, B. T. et al. (1994). Emotional and behavioral problems and severe academic delays among sheltered homeless children in Los Angeles County . New York: AJPH, 84, pp. 260-264.

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Homelessness in America, Research Paper Example

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  Individuals who are homeless are faced with physical, emotional, and psychological challenges each day. It is common for people who are homeless to have had a life riddled with traumatic experiences like physical and mental abuse and drug use. It is estimated that 200,000 thousand Americans have lived in or used the services of a homeless shelter. Recent data polls suggest that as many as 1.3 million Americans have experienced homelessness or extremely insecure living conditions. On any given night, as many as 30,000 thousand Americans experience homelessness. Surprisingly, as many as 50,000 thousand Americans may be “hidden homelessness” victims. In other words, these individuals couch surf-living with friends and families from day to day. Youth make up about 20% of the homelessness population. Violence and poverty are the main causes of homelessness in for women and families. Several provincial governments are exploring strategies to respond to increasingly high numbers of homeless in America. Amazingly, Many American cities have made progressing ending homelessness, using strategic community plans, investing in affordable housing and emphasizing Housing First. (Farrell, S. J., T. Aubry, and E. Reissing 2002). Homelessness is a problem that affects every aspect of the victims’ lives, as well as the members of the community and will continue to do so until Homelessness is seen as a world problem.

Measured and Defined

(a). The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH)  meets yearly to set up policy, work with law makers, and advocate for the homeless. (b).These guidelines are made by analyzing the data from surveys and questionnaires from the homeless population. In the last two years.

Policy and Goals

NCH has chosen three public policies that focus on the homeless: Capitalize the National Housing Trust Fund, Implement the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion, and Oppose the Criminalization of Homeless. (c). The goals are to provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes that can be afforded by very low income families; provide homeless with comprehensive health insurance that can stabilize chronic healthcare issues; finally, to revoke unproductive ordinances that criminalize homeless people by arresting them for living, sitting, and sleeping in public places (2013 Annual Homeless Report Assessment to Congress). Homelessness has an effect on every aspect of a child’s life. When a child experiences homelessness it is believed to inhibit the physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development. Homelessness can affect the child long before he/she is born. Pregnant women who are homeless face many obstacles to maintain healthy pregnancies. For example, many lack prenatal care, while others are suffering from chronic and acute health problem as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. According to Didenko & Pankratz, 2007 “Service providers report a 40 percent substance use rate among women in their programs, with approximately one-fifth of homeless women disclosing drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy”.  Babies born to homeless mothers are more likely to have low birth rates and a greater risk of SIDs (sudden infant death).  Children of homeless mothers often are unable to receive essential immunizations.  For example, homeless women are less likely to seek prenatal care. Fifty percent of homeless women versus 15 percent of the general population had not had a prenatal visit in the first trimester of pregnancy. Forty-eight percent of homeless women had not received medical assessment of their pregnancy” (Didenko & Pankratz, 2007   ). By the time they are 18 months old, the toddlers often demonstrate significant delays, which could be caused by behavioral and emotional problems that the mothers had. So often, children of homeless mothers are separated from their parents. This alone can cause many long-term negative effects. These children are three times as likely to experience major developmental delays. By the time homeless children reach school age, the effects of social, physical, and academic delays are very obvious. Homeless children have more health problems than non-homeless children. They tend to suffer from asthma and lead poisoning due to dilapidated living conditions and are more prone to contracting infectious diseases. All of these problems can be equated to the lack of access to consistent health care. While homeless, children often experience traumatic events that they are too young to understand; thus, leading to severe emotional distress. Homeless children are stressed from consistent changes. Often homeless families move around from one family member to the next or one shelter to the next and children have very little sense of home. These stressful conditions can lead to high incidence of mental illness. Children of homeless families are more easily made to cry, react with intense rage, overreact to small incidents, and are more easily distressed. Unfortunately, only about one-third of these children ever receive professional help (Didenko & Pankratz, 2007).

Homelessness can break down a community’s structure. (d). To ensure that public policy is working, The National Agency for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Quality of services performs an annual audit. They check for improved public services, decline in repeat homelessness, and increase in healthcare for homeless using local data and statistics. Homelessness also creates a division within the community. People often avoid areas that are largely populated by the homeless. This hurts many businesses. The community seems to help some homeless and not others. On the contrary, Layton discusses how generous people in Toronto were to the homeless. He believes that people in Toronto were less likely to blame others for homeless conditions (Layton, 1999).When a family becomes homeless because of flood, fire, or other natural disaster, the community will rally together to help that family. However, families who are homeless due to drugs or alcohol abuse are met with stigmas and isolation. For example, “The community sees the negative and that’s all they see. They don’t see the human side the fact that they’re still people. Some people do drugs to get rid of the pain.”(Didenko & Pankratz, 2007) According to Allen, there are many factors that lead a family to becoming homeless. Mental illness accounts for between 30 to 50 percent of all homeless cases. When people are experiencing mental illness, they need a good support group. In some cases, people with mental illness are unable to live alone. In other cases, a family may become homeless because one parent fled an abusive spouse (Allen, 2000). A study conducted by the government found that more than 40 percent of homeless families became homeless because they chose to live and abusive situation.

(e), (f). The cost of these services is calculated by the annual spending of each of its constituents. Services provided by NHC are annually estimated at 3.4 billion dollars. Everyone in a community is affected by homelessness because they all share the same public space. Citizens who are living in substandard conditions that affect their physical and mental health affect the spirits of other citizens who see them. Often, one wants to believe it’s nothing that he/she can do because the person brought it on themselves. People try to justify their inaction by telling themselves the person is choosing to be homeless. So many times, that is not the case at all. According to, Nunez and Collignon, “Homelessness affects everybody living in a community. Community residents, business owners, community service workers, and homeless individuals themselves deal on a daily basis with the devastating impacts of homelessness on the health and vitality of individuals and communities” (Nunez & Collignon, 1997   ).

The most significant way to measure these results is by looking at the decline in is homeless children who are able to attend school. The number of homeless children who attend school in on the incline. For example,  “Nearly one-quarter (23 percent or 138,149) of all homeless people were children, under the age of 18. Ten percent (or 61,541) were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 67 percent (or 410,352) were 25 years or older” (2013 Annual Homeless Report Assessment to Congress). Today, there are about 1.4 million children who met the school’s criteria for being homeless. These students have a greater need of academic and emotional assistance. Most of these students lack basic skills and often score low on academic achievement tests. Schools are a very important aspect in the lives of homeless children. So often, schools are the only place that provides that homeless child with stability. Teachers help to provide those students with a sense of self-worth. Schools also provide these children with two balanced meals each day. Sadly, these are the only meals most of the homeless children eat each day. Some schools have written grants to help homeless children by providing them with bag meals for the weekends. Students are allowed to pick up these meals on Fridays. The characteristics of homeless children are very similar to other students who are living in poverty. The only difference is that homeless students do not have consistent housing. Homeless students may be living in vehicles, shelters, overcrowded residences with several other families, or in makeshift housing-motel, tent city, etc. About 45 percent of homeless children do not attend school on a regular basis and 12 percent are not enrolled at all (Nunez & Collignon, 1997). These students have difficulty listening and following directions. They will not ask for help if they do not understand out of fear of being singled out. According to Nunez & Collignon,

“Other factors impede academic success as well. Studies have shown that up to half of homeless students show developmental delays and many students have more than one. These students are far more likely to have a learning disability. Homeless youth often do not turn in their homework, and are less likely to be promoted to the next grade. Overall, the academic achievement of homeless students is poor “. (Nunez & Collignon, 1997)   

Teachers are well aware of all of these factors, but feel they just don’t have the resources to help these children. For one, it is difficult to teach a child who is worried if he/she will have a place to sleep that night or if the child has not had anything to eat in two days. When faced with obstacles like these, teachers have a daunting task. However, the No Child Left Behind Act addresses homeless children in the school systems. According to this law, every child, even those that are homeless, are entitled to a free appropriate education. The law made schools eliminate the barriers that kept homeless students from enrolling, such as enrollment and attendance prerequisites. Schools are required to appoint someone to work with homeless students and their families and serve as a resource teacher. This person is a liaison between the teacher and the homeless family. Teachers can use this person to attempt to bridge that gap if the homeless child goes to another school. This person can initiate contact with the office staff and the child’s new teacher. They will transfer information in hopes of making the child’s transition easier. This will keep the teachers on track and prevent a loss of precious time in teaching something that was taught by a previous teacher.

Keep the Policy

There is no one path to homelessness. There have been many studies done to change the world’s view of homeless individuals. Becoming homeless is a complex series of events.  One must realize that it is not just the events that the individual has encountered, but the affect the events have had on the individual. It is possible for some events to occur in one individual’s life and that person may never become homeless, while the same events in another’s person life may lead to homelessness. Research is forming a link between a person’s childhood and future homelessness. One study showed that the lack of reliable relationships in childhood creates an adult who prefers isolation and insecurity. So, adults who were constantly moved around as children have a greater chance of becoming homeless.  These individuals have difficulty forming strong bonds with others and prefer superficial relationships because they are easier to end.  These individuals seem to live transient life styles; they are unable to stay in one place for an extended period of time. They have a fear of being judged by society and want to be seen as human being, For example, in the article, Someone to Talk To , Allen says, “The longer one is on the street homeless, the higher the probability of engaging in criminal acts, this reflects the process of survival and adaption”. (Allen, 2000). He goes on to discuss how homeless people must go through a process called disengagement in order to survive on the streets. Homeless people become hardened to violence and learn to turn a blind eye to the things going on around them (Allen, 2000).

Sexual and physical abuse as a child seems to be a common factor among homeless individuals. Being abused has a great effect on an individual’s ability to cope with stress, make wise decisions, and form lasting relationships. (Didenko & Pankratz, 2007) Both violence against and witnessed violence seems to add to the negative effects. The greatest indicator of continued homelessness is the age in which a child becomes homeless. Children who become homeless in their teen years are more likely to remain homeless than those who experienced it at a younger age.  Some that do get the chance to leave homelessness often return. They often lack proper social skills. To survive as a homeless person, one must acquire certain cultural and behavioral habits to fit in with homeless communities. As a result, it is very difficult to reestablish themselves into normal society where values are quite different (Didenko & Pankratz, 2007) In other research, it is reported that 25 percent of homeless individuals said that they did not live with their parents and 60 percent of them said that their families received welfare benefits during their childhood (Nunez & Collignon, 1997)      

There has been a homeless crisis for decades and it remains an ever growing problem. (g).NCH is considered to be effective: “On a single night in January 2013, 610,042 people were experiencing homelessness. From 2012 to 2013, a period of continued slow recovery from the Great Recession, overall homelessness decreased by 3.7 percent and homelessness decreased among every major subpopulation—families (7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (7.3 percent), and veterans (7.3 percent)” “Thirty-one states saw a decrease in homelessness, while 20 states saw increases in overall homelessness” (2013 Annual Homeless Report Assessment to Congress. (h). The effectiveness of the policy has been measured using data in the three target areas mentioned earlier. (i). This policy has been effective because homeless people have been able to input what they know is best for them.  Although “Homelessness declined by nearly 4 percent (or 23,740 people) between 2012 and 2013, and by 9 percent (or 61,846) since 2007”, It is still a major problem throughout the world. “The largest decreases in homelessness since 2012 were seen in Florida (7,308) and Colorado (7,014). Other states with large declines over the past year include: Texas (4,437), Georgia (3,545), and Washington (2,744) (2013 Annual Homeless Report Assessment to Congress)”. Homeless individuals have lower life expectancy than the general population. Their quality of life is dire too. In the article, I’m Tired of Being a Slave to the Church floor , Stackhouse discuses s the isolation and loneliness homeless people face each day. In his experiment, he set out to live as a homeless person n for one week. He explains how the belittlement he encountered made the psychological struggle of being homeless worse than the physical one. He was enlightened by the struggles of homelessness. Homelessness affects people from all walks of life with different stories of how they ended up homeless.  He recounts how he felt when he was heading home and conveys that he could not truly explain what it was like to be homeless because he knew he could go home whenever he chose to (Stackhouse, 1999). This alone should cause a moral outcry from society as a whole. Several triggers were identified that can possibly increase one’s likelihood of becoming homeless. The culture of homelessness can be so devastating that it can make it almost impossible for a former homeless person to reenter the general population of society.  Homeless communities enhance unhealthy behaviors. Homeless people are still members of society and should not be ostracized and isolated because of their status. Homeless children are affected greatly by the situation.

Allen, T. (2000). Someone to talk to: care and control of the homeless. Fernwood Publishing. Halifax.

Annual Homeless Report Assessment to Congress, 2013

Farrell, S. J., T. Aubry, and E. Reissing (2002). Street needs assessment: An investigation of the characteristics and service needs of persons who are homeless and not currently using emergency shelters in Ottawa. Ottawa: Centre for Community Research.

Layton, J. (1999). The homeless: are we a part of the problem? The globe and mail.

Nunez, R., & Collignon, K. (1997). Creating a community of learning for homeless children. Educational Leadership, 55, 56–60

Stackhouse, J. (1999). I’m tired of being a slave to the church floor. The globe and mail.

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