Understanding the Causes of Homelessness


Homelessness is a complex and diverse phenomenon, with many pathways to unhousedness. As such, it is challenging for researchers to fully understand what drives the prevalence of homelessness among different subpopulations. However, it is essential for policymakers to recognize the needs and challenges faced by each subpopulation, so they can develop strategies and programs that are most effective in addressing those challenges.

The 2022 point-in-time count indicated that the overall population of homeless individuals increased slightly over the previous year, and is now at its highest level since 2007. This trend is particularly troubling because the largest group of homeless people are those who are chronically homeless – they have experienced at least one episode of homelessness for at least three years or more. The increase in the number of chronically homeless individuals is the result of a variety of factors, including rising housing costs and limited availability of affordable rental housing, increased levels of economic inequality and stagnant wages, a rise in the incidence of mental illness, and a reduction in public assistance programs for poor Americans, which has caused more people to rely on local charities for shelter.

In addition, a rise in the number of migrants seeking asylum has also contributed to the overall growth in the number of homeless individuals. It is likely that the migration of people from Central America to the United States will continue to cause the number of homeless individuals to rise.

During the 1870s, urbanization and industrialization led to the emergence of a great army of tramps who traveled across America in search of work. Despite their desperate situation, these men and women still had family, friends and faith, and they sought to maintain a decent standard of living. Muckrakers like Jacob Riis were able to bring attention to their plight through his photographic reporting.

Today, we have a much more sophisticated understanding of what causes homelessness among different groups of people. There is no single hardship that leads to homelessness, and it can be triggered by a number of factors, such as periods of unemployment, the scarcity of affordable housing, and severe trauma such as domestic violence or a mental health crisis. Some people who are homeless experience addiction problems, but it is important to remember that substance abuse and behavioral disorders usually occur as a result of homelessness, not as a cause of it.

Until recently, research on homelessness has primarily been conducted in urban areas. There has been a paucity of data on homeless populations in suburban and rural communities, but there is growing recognition that the demographics and social characteristics of the homeless are quite different from those in urban areas. Furthermore, there is a growing awareness that there are distinct subpopulations within the contemporary homeless population, such as families with children and individuals who have a disability or who are fleeing from domestic violence. This recognition has prompted more research and community organizations to develop programs and services that are targeted at the unique needs of these distinct populations.