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A homeless man in Paris, France.

Homelessness is the condition of people without a regular The Salvation Army.

An estimated 100 million people worldwide were homeless in 2005.[7] In western countries, the large majority of homeless are men (75–80%), with single males particularly overrepresented.[8][9][10] In the USA, LGBT people are over-represented among homeless youth, at 39%.[11] Modern homelessness started as a result of economic stresses in society and reductions in the availability of affordable housing. In the United States, in the 1970s, the deinstitutionalisation of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor in urban areas. By the mid-1980s, there was also a dramatic increase in family homelessness. Tied into this was an increasing number of impoverished and runaway children, teenagers, and young adults, which created more street children or street youth.

Most countries provide a variety of services to assist homeless people. They often provide food, shelter and clothing and may be organized and run by community organizations (often with the help of volunteers) or by government departments. These programs may be supported by government, charities, churches and individual donors. Many non-profit organizations such as Goodwill Industries maintain a mission to "provide skill development and work opportunities to people with barriers to employment". Many cities also have street newspapers, which are publications designed to provide employment opportunity to homeless people. While some homeless have jobs, some must seek other methods to make a living. Begging or panhandling is one option, but is becoming increasingly illegal in many cities.


  • Difficulties in classification 1
    • United Nations definition 1.1
    • European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion 1.2
    • Unsheltered or unhoused people 1.3
  • History 2
    • Modern 2.1
    • England and the USA 2.2
      • Early history through the 1800s 2.2.1
      • Early 20th century 2.2.2
      • Later 20th century 2.2.3
        • 1960s and 1970s
        • Urban homeless shelters
        • Legislation and legal pro bono efforts
        • Newspapers founded by the homeless
      • 21st century 2.2.4
    • Russia and the USSR 2.3
  • Social science 3
    • Causes of homelessness 3.1
    • Demographics 3.2
    • Problems 3.3
      • Victimization by violent crimes 3.3.1
  • From homelessness to self-sufficiency 4
    • Employment 4.1
    • Housing 4.2
      • Community organization housing initiative 4.2.1
      • Organizing around homeless shelters 4.2.2
    • Political action: voting 4.3
    • Existing social support organizations 4.4
      • Habitat for Humanity 4.4.1
      • The Salvation Army 4.4.2
      • National Coalition for the Homeless 4.4.3
  • Assistance and resources 5
    • Social supports 5.1
    • Income sources 5.2
    • Australia 5.3
    • United States 5.4
  • Refuges 6
  • Health care 7
  • Tracking and counting 8
  • Global definition 9
    • Statistics for developed countries 9.1
    • Developing and undeveloped countries 9.2
    • By country 9.3
  • Strategies 10
  • Potential solutions 11
  • Films 12
  • See also 13
    • Other terms 13.1
    • Socioeconomic issues 13.2
  • References 14
    • Notes 14.1
    • Bibliography 14.2
  • Further reading 15
  • External links 16

Difficulties in classification

The term unsheltered refers to that segment of a homeless community who do not have ordinary lawful access to buildings in which to sleep. Such persons frequently prefer the term houseless to the term homeless. Others may use the term street people, which does not fully encompass all unsheltered in that many such persons do not spend their time on urban street environments. Many shun such locales and prefer to convert unoccupied buildings, or to inhabit mountains or, more often, lowland meadows, and creek banks and beaches[12] Many jurisdictions have developed programs to provide short term emergency shelter, often in churches or other institutional real property, during particularly cold spells. These are referred to as warming centers, and are credited by their advocates as lifesaving.[13]

A portion of the homeless population are generally in transit, but there is no generally accepted terminology to describe them; some nomenclature is frequently associated with derogatory connotations, and thus the professional and vernacular lingo to describe these persons is both evolving and not lacking in controversy.[14] Much of the concern stems from the European situation, where homeless persons of Roma, Sinti and other ethnic descent have rejected the term gypsy. Other terms which some use regarding in-transit persons are: transient, vagabond, tramp or drifter. Occasionally, these terms are interchanged with terms not necessarily implying that the person is a traveler, i.e. hobo. The term bum is used for persons lacking a work ethic. The term transient is frequently used in police reports, without any precise definitions across jurisdictions.

It is complex and difficult to define homelessness. Many different definitions have been made and changes to the concept are constantly being brought to attention. The United States Congress has developed a definition that has gone through multiple changes. First applied in 1987, this general definition was provided and is now called the McKinney-Vento Act. As time went on and homelessness was still apparent in the USA, Congress added a definition for the homeless children and youths that will be using the educational programs; this change accrued in 2002. Congress later, in 2009, enacted the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition Housing Act, also known as The HEARTH Act. This broadened the general definition of homelessness and gave more consideration to help given to those who are considered homeless. Once again, in 2011, HUD issued a final rule to implement changes to the definition of homeless in the HEARTH Act. The implemented rule expands who is eligible for HUD-funded homeless assistance programs. (Cackley, A. P)

United Nations definition

The United Nations, either via one of its agencies or via a vote in the General Assembly, has agreed upon various minimum conditions for a person to be countable as homeless. It is understood that these legal definitions for homelessness may date back to the beginnings of the UN in the late 1940s. The definition of a person being a refugee is at least partly linked to the definition of homelessness, as many refugees may have been or are homeless. In 2004, the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, defined a homeless household as: those households without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters. They carry their few possessions with them, sleeping in the streets, in doorways or on piers, or in another space, on a more or less random basis.[15]

In 2009, at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Conference of European Statisticians (CES), held in Geneva, the Group of Experts on Population and Housing Censuses defined homelessness as:[16]

In its Recommendations for the Censuses of Population and Housing, the CES identifies homeless people under two broad groups:
(a) Primary homelessness (or rooflessness). This category includes persons living in the streets without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters;
(b) Secondary homelessness. This category may include persons with no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations (including dwellings, shelters and institutions for the homeless or other living quarters). This category includes persons living in private dwellings but reporting 'no usual address' on their census form.
The CES acknowledges that the above approach does not provide a full definition of the 'homeless'.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, contains this text regarding housing and quality of living:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.[17]

European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion

Homelessness is perceived and tackled differently according to country.[18] The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS)[19] was developed as a means of improving understanding and measurement of homelessness in Europe, and to provide a common "language" for transnational exchanges on homelessness. The ETHOS approach confirms that homelessness is a process (rather than a static phenomenon) that affects many vulnerable households at different points in their lives.

The typology was launched in 2005 and is used for different purposes: as a framework for debate,[20] for data collection purposes, for policy purposes, monitoring purposes, and in the media. This typology is an open exercise which makes abstraction of existing legal definitions in the EU member states. It exists in 25 language versions, the translations being provided mainly by volunteer translators.

Unsheltered or unhoused people

The word unhoused refers to that segment of a homeless community who do not have ordinary lawful access to buildings in which to sleep, as referred to in the HUD definition as persons occupying "place not designed for ... sleeping accommodation for human beings. Such persons frequently prefer the term houseless to the term homeless.Recent homeless enumeration survey documentation utilizes the term unsheltered homeless. HUD requires jurisdictions which participate in Continuum of Care grant programs to count their homeless every two years. These counts have led to a variety of creative measures to avoid undercounting. Thus teams of counters, often numbering in the hundreds in logistically complex volunteer efforts, seek out the unsheltered in various nooks and crannies.[21] There has been a significant number of unsheltered persons dying of hypothermia, adding impetus to the trend of establishing warming centers as well as extending the enumeration surveys with vulnerability indexes.[22][23]



German illustration of a homeless mother and her children in the street, before 1883

In the modern world, home construction became increasingly specialized and electric wiring and plumbing added to the cost of homes. Today, few people are capable of building their own homes. Specialization increases demand and price, which raises the cost of living. Building laws, codes, ordinances, and zoning limits may make home ownership even more expensive. In many places, houses without electricity and plumbing, or without foundations, that would once have been legal are now banned as substandard.

The industrial revolution caused a great migration from the rural areas to urban areas. Urban areas often have more complex building codes to handle the denser populations in modern cities. City ordinances coupled with higher land prices may make housing even more expensive in such urban areas.

England and the USA

Early history through the 1800s

Following the Peasants' Revolt, English constables were authorised under a 1383 statute to collar vagabonds and force them to show support; if they could not, the penalty was gaol.[24] Vagabonds could be sentenced to the stocks for three days and nights; in 1530, whipping was added. The presumption was that vagabonds were unlicensed beggars.[24] In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a "V" as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. Large numbers of vagabonds were among the convicts transported to the American colonies in the 18th century.[25] During the 16th century in England, the state first tried to give housing to vagrants instead of punishing them, by introducing bridewells to take vagrants and train them for a profession. In the 17th and 18th centuries, these were replaced by workhouses but these were intended to discourage too much reliance on state help.

A homeless man lives in a sewer, Vienna, Austria, 1900.
The Bowery Mission in New York City in the 1800s
Food line at the Yonge Street Mission, 381 Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada in the 1930s.

The growing movement toward social concern sparked the development of rescue missions, such as America's first rescue mission, the New York City Rescue Mission, founded in 1872 by Jerry and Maria McAuley.[26][27] In smaller towns, there were hobos, who temporarily lived near train tracks and hopped onto trains to various destinations. Especially following the American Civil War, a large number of homeless men formed part of a counterculture known as "hobohemia" all over America. This phenomenon re-surged in the 1930s during and after the Great Depression.[28][29]

Early 20th century

Down and Out in Paris and London. In general, in most countries, many towns and cities had an area which contained the poor, transients, and afflicted, such as a "skid row". In New York City, for example, there was an area known as "Bowery", traditionally, where alcoholics were to be found sleeping on the streets, bottle in hand.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a devastating epidemic of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States.[30] In the 1960s, the nature and growing problem of homelessness changed in England as public concern grew. The number of people living "rough" in the streets had increased dramatically. However, beginning with the Conservative administration's Rough Sleeper Initiative, the number of people sleeping rough in London fell dramatically. This initiative was supported further by the incoming Labour administration from 2009 onwards with the publication of the 'Coming in from the Cold' strategy published by the Rough Sleepers Unit, which proposed and delivered a massive increase in the number of hostel bed spaces in the capital and an increase in funding for street outreach teams, who work with rough sleepers to enable them to access services.[31]

Later 20th century

1960s and 1970s

Modern homelessness started as a result of economic stresses in society and reductions in the availability of affordable housing such as single room occupancies (SROs) for poorer people. In the United States, in the 1970s, the deinstitutionalisation of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor that seeded the homeless population, especially in large cities like New York City.[32] Others feel that Ronald Reagan's signing of the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act greatly exacerbated homelessness among the mentally ill. This law lowered the standards for involuntary commitment in civil courtrooms and was followed by significant de-funding of 1700 hospitals caring for mental patients.

The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was a predisposing factor in setting the stage for homelessness in the United States.[33] Long term psychiatric patients were released from state hospitals into SROs and supposed to be sent to community mental health centers for treatment and follow-up. It never quite worked out properly, the community mental health centers mostly did not materialize, and this population largely was found living in the streets soon thereafter with no sustainable support system.[34][35]

Also, as real estate prices and neighborhood pressure increased to move these people out of their areas, the SROs diminished in number, putting most of their residents in the streets. Other populations were mixed in later, such as people losing their homes for economic reasons, and those with addictions, the elderly, and others. Trends in homelessness are closely tied to neighborhood conditions according to a report by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in 1990.[36]

Churches, public libraries and atriums began restricting access as the homeless population grew larger. Park benches started to be designed so that no one could lie down on them. Some churches restricted access when mass or services were not being held. Libraries began enforcing "no eyes shut" and sometimes dress codes. Some public places hired private security guards to carry out these policies, creating social tension. Many public toilets have been closed. This banished the homeless population to sidewalks, parks, under bridges, and the like. They also lived in New York City Subway tunnels. They try to be socially invisible to avoid enforcement of new anti-vagrancy penalties.

Urban homeless shelters

The homeless shelters, which were generally night shelters, made people leave in the morning to whatever they could manage and return in the evening when the beds in the shelters opened up again for sleeping. There were some daytime shelters where people could go, instead of being stranded on the streets, and they could be helped, get counseling, avail themselves of resources, meals, and otherwise spend their day until returning to their overnight sleeping arrangements. An example of such a day center shelter model is Saint Francis House in Boston, Massachusetts, founded in the early 1980s, which opens for homeless people all year long during the daytime hours and was originally based on the settlement house model.[37]

Homeless person in Rome

Many homeless keep all their possessions with them because they have no access to storage. There was also the reality of the "bag" people, the shopping cart people, and the soda can collectors (known as binners or dumpster divers) who sort through garbage to find items to sell, trade and eat. These people carry around all of their possessions with them all the time because they have no place to store them. If they had no access to or capability to get to a shelter and possible bathing, or access to toilets and laundry facilities, their hygiene was lacking. This again creates social tensions in public places.

These conditions created an upsurge in tuberculosis and other diseases in urban areas.[38][39][40] In 1974, Kip Tiernan founded Rosie's Place in Boston, the first drop-in and emergency shelter for women in the United States, in response to the increasing numbers of needy women throughout the country.

Legislation and legal pro bono efforts

In 1979, a New York City lawyer, Robert Hayes, brought a class action suit before the courts, Callahan v. Carey, against the City and State, arguing for a person's state constitutional "right to shelter". It was settled as a consent decree in August 1981. The City and State agreed to provide board and shelter to all homeless men who met the need standard for welfare or who were homeless by certain other standards. By 1983 this right was extended to homeless women.

A homeless person's shelter.
A homeless bed in Sweden, 2013

By the mid-1980s, there was also a dramatic increase in family homelessness. Tied into this was an increasing number of impoverished and runaway children, teenagers, and young adults, which created a new sub-stratum of the homeless population (street children or street youth).[41][42][43] Also, in the 1980s, in the United States, some federal legislation was introduced on homelessness as a result of the work of Congressman Stewart B. McKinney. In 1987, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was enacted.

Newspapers founded by the homeless

In New York City, in 1989, a street newspaper was created called "Street News" which put some homeless to work, some writing, producing, and mostly selling the paper on streets and trains.[44] Street News is written pro bono by a combination of homeless, celebrities, and established writers. In 1991, in England, a street newspaper, following on the New York model was established, called The Big Issue and is published weekly.[45] Its circulation has grown to 300,000.

Chicago has StreetWise which has the second largest circulation of its kind in the United States, 30,000. Boston has a Spare Change News newspaper, founded in 1992 by a small group of homeless people in Boston, built on the same model as the others: homeless helping themselves.[46] San Francisco, California has a twice monthly Street Sheet newspaper, founded in 1989, with a distribution of 32,000 per month. The publication is the oldest continuously published street newspaper, operates advertising free, contains poverty related news stories, artwork, poetry, and is provided to street vendors free of charge.

Seattle has Real Change, a $1 newsletter that aims to benefit directly homeless people and also reports on economic issues in the area. Portland, Oregon has Street Roots, with articles and poetry by homeless writers, sold on the street for a dollar. More recently, Street Sense, in Washington, D.C. has gained a lot of popularity and helped many make the move out of homelessness. Students in Baltimore, MD have opened a satellite office for that street paper as well.[47]

21st century

Sleeping homeless person in the corner of Cologne Cathedral, Germany, 2010

In 2002, research showed that children and families were the largest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States,[48][49] and this has presented new challenges, especially in services, to agencies. Some trends involving the plight of homeless people have provoked some thought, reflection and debate. One such phenomenon is paid physical advertising, colloquially known as "sandwich board men".[50][51]

Another trend is the side-effect of unpaid free advertising of companies and organizations on shirts, clothing and bags, to be worn by homeless and poor people, given out and donated by companies to homeless shelters and charitable organizations for otherwise altruistic purposes. These trends are reminiscent of the "sandwich board signs" carried by poor people in the time of Charles Dickens in the Victorian 19th century in England[52] and later during the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s.

In the USA, the government asked many major cities to come up with a ten-year plan to end homelessness. One of the results of this was a "

  • Homeless Statistics for Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States, all data from around the year 2001.
  • PBS, "Home at Last?", NOW series program, first aired on February 2, 2007. The topic was what will most help homeless people reenter the fabric of society.
  • Homelessness at DMOZ
  • Homelessness, Current information on U.S. homelessness written by The Rev. Chuck Currie, former National Coalition for the Homeless board member.
  • Homelessness in Europe FEANTSA is the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless is an umbrella of not-for-profit organisations which participate in or contribute to the fight against homelessness in Europe.
  •, Mark Horvath of, telling the stories of homelessness and the organizations trying to help
  • Child homelessness on the rise in US (2014-11-17), Palm Beach Post. A summary of a Report Card on Child Homelessness by the American Institutes for Research

External links

  • Anderberg, Kristen (2011). 21st Century Essays on Homelessness. Seaward Avenue Press.  
  • Arumi, Ana Maria, Yarrow, Andrew L., "Compassion, Concern, and Conflicted Feelings: New Yorkers on Homelessness and Housing", Public Agenda Foundation, February 2007
  • Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Housing and Community Development, Homelessness Commission, Commission to End Homelessness, "Report of the Special Commission Relative to Ending Homelessness in The Commonwealth", Final Report, December 2007
  • Crosette, Barbara, "Homeless and Hungry Youths of India", The New York Times, December 23, 1990.
  • Desjarlais, Robert R., Shelter blues: sanity and selfhood among the homeless, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997
  • Friedman, Donna H., et al., "Preventing Homelessness and Promoting Housing Stability: A Comparative Analysis", The Boston Foundation, June 2007.
  • Howard, Ella, Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013.
  • Institute of Medicine (U.S.), Committee on Healthcare for Homeless People, "Homelessness, Health, and Human Needs", Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press, 1988. ISBN 0-309-03835-9
  • Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, Springer Verlag [22] and Psycke-Logos Press.[23]
  • Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, "Down & Out: A Manual on Basic Rights and Benefits for Homeless People", 2005–2006 edition, first published in 1984, 15 Bubier Street, Lynn, Massachusetts.
  • Katz, Jessica Ilana, "Homelessness, Crime, Mental Illness, and Substance Abuse: A Core Population with Multiple Social Service Needs", Department of Urban Planning and Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 2003
  • Kenyon, Thomas, What You Can Do to Help the Homeless (Simon and Schuster, 1991)
  • Min, Eungjun, (editor), "Reading the Homeless: The Media's Image of Homeless Culture", Praeger Publishers, 1999. ISBN 0-275-95950-3
  • National Coalition for the Homeless, "American Nightmare: A Decade of Homelessness in the United States", December 1989
  • Nieto G., Gittelman M., Abad A. (2008). "Homeless Mentally Ill Persons: A bibliography review", International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 12(2)
  • O'Flaherty, Brendan, "Making room : the economics of homelessness", Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-674-54342-4
  • Office for Public Management (UK), "Tackling Homelessness: learning from New York", Seminar Report, London, England, February 2004
  • Putnam, Kristen M., "Homelessness: Key Findings and Grantmaking Strategies", June 2002, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and Putnam Community Investment Consulting.
  • Scanlon, John, "Homelessness: Describing the Symptoms, Prescribing a Cure", Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #729, October 2, 1989
  • Miya Yoshida, "The Hidden Homeless in Japan's Contemporary Mobile Culture", NeMe, 2012
  • Southard, Peggy Ann Dee, "Looking for Sanctuary: Staying on Publicly Owned Lands as a Response to Homelessness, a dissertation presented to the Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of the University of Oregon in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
  • Tsesis, Alexander, "Eliminating the Destitution of America's Homeless", Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 539, 2002, Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • University of Michigan Libraries, Selected Bibliography of Homelessness Resources
  • Wright, James D., "Address Unknown: the homeless in America", New York : A. de Gruyter, Edition: 3, 1989

Further reading

  • Bassuk, Ellen L.; Geller, Stephanie, "The Role of Housing and Services in Ending Family Homelessness" (2006). Housing Policy Debate. 17(4): 781–806
  • Baumohl, Jim (editor) (1996). Homelessness in America. Phoenix: Oryx Press.  
  • Booth, Brenda M., Sullivan, J. Greer, Koegel, Paul, Burnam, M. Audrey, "Vulnerability Factors for Homelessness Associated with Substance Dependence in a Community Sample of Homeless Adults", RAND Research Report. Originally published in: American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, v. 28, no. 3, 2002, pp. 429–452.
  • Brickner, Philip, Under the Safety Net: The Health and Social Welfare of the Homeless in the United States, W. W. Norton & Company, 1990. ISBN 0-393-02885-2
  • Burt, Martha; et al., Helping America's homeless: emergency shelter or affordable housing?, Washington DC : Urban Institute Press, 1st edition, April 2001. ISBN 978-0-87766-701-8
  • "A History of Modern Homelessness in New York City". Coalition for the Homeless (New York). 
  • Coyne, Barry V. (editor), "Homelessness: A Bibliography", New York : Nova Science Publishers, August 2, 2006. ISBN 1-60021-306-5
  • Culhane, Dennis, "Responding to Homelessness: Policies and Politics", 2001.
  • Friedman, Donna Haig, et al. (June 2007). "Preventing Homelessness and Promoting Housing Stability: A Comparative Analysis", The Boston Foundation and UMASS/Boston Center for Social Policy.
  • Hoch, Charles; Slayton, Robert A., New Homeless and Old: Community and the Skid Row Hotel, Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-87722-600-8
  • "Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve – Highlights Report". Interagency Council on the Homeless (USA). 1997. 
  • Jencks, Christopher (1994). The Homeless. Harvard University Press.  
  • Koebel, C. Theodore, Shelter and Society: Theory, Research, and Policy for Nonprofit Housing, SUNY Press, 1998. ISBN 0-7914-3789-2
  • Kuhlman, Thomas L., Psychology on the streets : mental health practice with homeless persons, New York : J. Wiley & Sons, 1994. ISBN 0-471-55243-7
  • Kusmer, Kenneth L. (2003). Down and Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History. Oxford University Press.  
  • Quigley, John M.; Raphael, Steven, "The Economics of Homelessness: The Evidence from North America", European Journal of Housing Policy 1(3), 2001, 323–336
  • Redburn, F. Stevens; Buss, Terry F., Responding to America's Homeless: Public Policy Alternatives, Praeger, 1986.
  • Rossi, Peter H. (1990). Down and Out in America: The Origins of Homelessness. University Of Chicago Press.  
  • Schutt, Russell K.; Goldfinger, Stephen M., Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness, Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, February 15, 2011. ISBN 978-0-674-05101-0
  • Sommer, Heidi (2001). "Homelessness in Urban America: a Review of the Literature". 
  • Sweeney, Richard (1992). Out of Place: Homelessness in America. HarperCollins College Publishers.  
  • Vissing, Yvonne (1996). Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Homeless Children and Families in Small-Town America. University Press of Kentucky.  
  • Vladeck, Bruce, R.; The Committee on Health Care for Homeless People, Institute of Medicine (1988). Homelessness, Health, and Human needs. National Academies Press. 
  • United States Department of Health and Human Services, "Ending Chronic Homelessness: Strategies for Action", Report from the Secretary's Work Group on Ending Chronic Homelessness, March 2003.


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Socioeconomic issues

Other terms

See also


Government initiatives
In South Australia, the State Government of Premier Mike Rann (2002 to 2011) committed substantial funding to a series of initiatives designed to combat homelessness. Advised by Social Inclusion Commissioner David Cappo and the founder of New York's Common Ground program, Rosanne Haggerty, the Rann Government established Common Ground Adelaide [223] building high quality inner city apartments (combined with intensive support) for "rough sleeping" homeless people. The government also funded the Street to Home program and a hospital liaison service designed to assist homeless people who are admitted to the Emergency Departments of Adelaide's major public hospitals. Rather than being released back into homelessness, patients identified as rough sleepers are found accommodation backed by professional support. Common Ground and Street to Home now operate across Australia in other States.

Pedestrian villages
In 2007 urban designer and social theorist Michael E. Arth proposed a controversial national solution for homelessness that would involve building nearly carfree "Pedestrian Villages" in place of what he terms "the current band-aid approach to the problem."[219] A prototype, Tiger Bay Village, was proposed for near Daytona Beach, FL. He claims that this would be superior for treating the psychological as well as psychiatric needs of both temporarily and permanently homeless adults, and would cost less than the current approach. It would also provide a lower cost alternative to jail, and provide a half-way station for those getting out of prison. Work opportunities, including construction and maintenance of the villages, as well as the creation of work force agencies would help make the villages financially and socially viable.[220][221][222]

Supportive housing
Supportive housing is a combination of housing and services intended as a cost-effective way to help people live more stable, productive lives. Supportive housing works well for those who face the most complex challenges—individuals and families confronted with homelessness and who also have very low incomes and/or serious, persistent issues that may include substance abuse, addiction or alcoholism, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, or other serious challenges to a successful life.

Transitional housing
Transitional housing provides temporary housing for the certain segments of the homeless population, including working homeless, and is set up to transition their residents into permanent, affordable housing. It's not in an emergency homeless shelter but usually a room or apartment in a residence with support services. The transitional time can be short, for example one or two years, and in that time the person must file for and get permanent housing and usually some gainful employment or income, even if Social Security or assistance. Sometimes, the transitional housing residence program charges a room and board fee, maybe 30% of an individual's income, which is sometimes partially or fully refunded after the person procures a permanent place to live in. In the USA, federal funding for transitional housing programs was originally allocated in the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1986.[216][217][218]

Potential solutions

Enhanced data collection and evaluation Homeless enumeration counts are mandated by HUD for all jurisdictions participating in HUD Continuum of Care grant programs. These occur as frequently as every two years. More recently, organizations such as [Common Ground] have piggy-backed those counts with compilation of Vulnerability Indexes which prioritize homeless persons. The factors include the existence of late stage terminal disease, HIV-AIDS, kidney or liver disease, frequent hospitalizations and frequent emergency room visits. The data which is compiled which exceeds the BUD mandate is retained and held confidential by Common Ground. Advocates of the system claim high rates of success in placing the most vulnerable persons, but skeptics remain concerned with confidentiality and security issues.

Housing first / rapid rehousing
In the USA, the government asked many major cities to come up with a ten-year plan to end homelessness; and one of the results of this was a "Housing first" solution, also known as "rapid re-housing", which quickly gets a homeless person permanent housing of some sort and the necessary support services to sustain a new home. There are many complications of this kind of program and these must be dealt with to make such an initiative work successfully in the middle to long term.[53][54][215]


Tent city next to high-rise commercial buildings in Kochi, India. (2007)

By country

In 2008, Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, referring to the recent report "State of the World's Cities Report 2008/2009",[209] said that the world economic crisis we are in should be viewed as a "housing finance crisis" in which the poorest of poor were left to fend for themselves.[210]

Poor urban housing conditions are a global problem, but conditions are worst in developing countries. Habitat says that today 600 million people live in life- and health-threatening homes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For example, more than three in four young people had insufficient means of shelter and sanitation in some Afican countries like Malawi.[207] The threat of mass homelessness is greatest in those regions because that is where population is growing fastest. By 2015, the 10 largest cities in the world will be in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Nine of them will be in developing countries: Mumbai, India – 27.4 million; Lagos, Nigeria – 24.4; Shanghai, China – 23.4; Jakarta, Indonesia – 21.2; São Paulo, Brazil – 20.8; Karachi, Pakistan – 20.6; Beijing, China – 19.4; Dhaka, Bangladesh – 19; Mexico City, Mexico – 18.8. The only city in a developed country that will be in the top ten is Tokyo, Japan – 28.7 million."[208]

For people in Russia, especially the youth, alcoholism and substance abuse is a major cause and reason for becoming and continuing to be homeless.[206] The United Nations, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) wrote in its Global Report on Human Settlements in 1995: "Homelessness is a problem in developed as well as in developing countries. In London, for example, life expectancy among homeless people is more than 25 years lower than the national average.

This new perspective on homelessness sheds light on the plight of refugees, a population of stateless people who are not normally included in the mainstream definition of homelessness. It has also created problems for researchers because the nature of "counting" homeless people across the globe relies heavily on who is considered a homeless person. Homeless individuals, and by extension refugees, can be seen as lacking lack the "crucible of our modern society" and lacking a way of actively belonging to and engaging with their respective communities or cultures [203] As Casavant demonstrates, a spectrum of definitions for homelessness, called the "continuum of homelessness," should refer to refugees as homeless individuals because they not only lose their home, but they are also afflicted with a myriad of problems that parallel those affecting the domestic homeless, such as "[a lack of] stable, safe and healthy housing, an extremely low income, adverse discrimination in access to services, with problems of mental health, alcohol, and drug abuse or social disorganization" [204] Refugees, like the domestic homeless, lose their source of identity and way of connecting with their culture for an indefinite period of time. Thus, the current definition of homelessness unfortunately allows people to simplistically assume that homeless people, including refugees, are merely "without a place to live" when that is not the case. As numerous studies show, forced migration and displacement brings with it another host of problems including socioeconomic instability, "increased stress, isolation, and new responsibilities" in a completely new environment [205]

Determining the true number of homeless people worldwide varies between 100 million and 1 billion people based on the exact definition used.[199] Refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons (ITDs) can also be considered homeless in that they too experience "marginalization, minority status, socio-economic disadvantage, poor physical health, collapse of social supports, psychological distress, and difficulty adapting to host cultures" like the domestic homeless.[200] In the past twenty years, scholars like Tipple and Speak have begun to refer to homelessness as the "antithesis or absence of home" rather than rooflessness or the "lack of physical shelter." This complication in the homelessness debate further delineates the idea that home actually consists of an adequate shelter, an experienced and dynamic place that serves as a "base" for nurturing human relationships and the "free development of individuals" and their identity.[201] Thus, the home is perceived to be an extension of one's self and identity. In contrast, the homeless experience, according to Moore, constitutes more as a "lack of belonging" and a loss of identity that leads to individuals or communities feeling "out of place" once they can no longer call a place of their own home [202]

The number of homeless people worldwide has grown steadily in recent years.[194][195] In some Third World nations such as Nigeria, and South Africa, homelessness is rampant, with millions of children living and working on the streets.[196][197] Homelessness has become a problem in the countries of China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines despite their growing prosperity, mainly due to migrant workers who have trouble finding permanent homes.[198]

A homeless person in a park in Ahvaz, Iran

Developing and undeveloped countries

European Union: 3,000,000 (UN-HABITAT 2004)
United Kingdom: 10,459 rough sleepers, 98,750 households in temporary accommodation (Department for Communities and Local Government 2005)
Canada: 300,000.[187]
Australia: On census night in 2006 there were 105,000 people homeless across Australia, an increase from the 99,900 Australians who were counted as homeless in the 2001 census[188]
United States:[189] According to HUD's July 2010 5th Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, in a single night in January 2010, single point analysis reported to HUD showed there were 649,917 people experiencing homelessness. This number has increased from January 2009's 643,067. The unsheltered count increased by 2.8 percent while the sheltered count remained the same. Also, HUD reported the number of chronically homeless people (persons with severe disabilities and long homeless histories) decreased one percent between 2009 and 2010, from 110,917 to 109,812. Since 2007 this number has decreased by eleven percent. This is mostly due to the expansion of permanent supportive housing programs. The change in the numbers has happened due to the prevalence of homelessness in local communities rather than other changes. According to HUD's July 2010 Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, more than 1.59 million people spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program during 2010 reporting period, this is a 2.2 percent increase from 2009. Most users of homeless shelters used only emergency shelter, while 17 percent used only transitional housing and less than 5 percent used both during the reporting period. Since 2007 the annual number of those using homeless shelters in cities has decreased from 1.22 million to 1.02 million. That is a 17 percent decrease. The number of those using homeless shelters in suburban and rural areas has increased 57 percent from 367,000 to 576,00[190]
Japan: 20,000–100,000 (some figures put it at 200,000–400,000)[191] Reports show that homelessness is on the rise in Japan since the mid-1990s.[192]
There are more homeless men than homeless women in Japan because it is usually easier for women to get a job and they are less isolated than men. Also Japanese families usually provide more support for women than they do for men.[193]

The following statistics indicate the approximate average number of homeless people at any one time. Each country has a different approach to counting homeless people, and estimates of homelessness made by different organizations vary wildly, so comparisons should be made with caution.

In 2005, an estimated 100 million people worldwide were homeless.[186]

Homeless man in Prague, Czech Republic
Homeless man sleeping in a street in Charleroi
Homeless man in Tokyo
A homeless man in Edinburgh

Statistics for developed countries

Global definition

Various countries, states, and cities have come up with differing means and techniques to calculate an approximate count. For example, a one night "homeless census count", called a point-in-time (PIT) count, usually held in the early Winter, for the year, is a technique used by a number of American cities, especially Boston, Massachusetts.[181][182][183] Los Angeles, California uses a mixed set of techniques for counting, including the PIT street count.[180][184] In 2003, The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had begun requiring a PIT count in all "Continuum of Care" communities which required them to report the count of people, housing status, and geographic locations of individuals counted. Some communities will give sub-population information to the PIT, such as information on veterans, youth, and elderly individuals as done in Boston.[185]

Actually determining and counting the number of homeless is very difficult in general due to their lifestyle habits.[178][179] There are so-called "hidden homeless" out of sight of the normal population and perhaps staying on private property.[180]

In the USA, the federal government's HUD agency has required federally funded organizations to use a computer tracking system for homeless people and their statistics, called HMIS (Homeless Management Information System).[172][173][174] There has been some opposition to this kind of tracking by privacy advocacy groups, such as EPIC.[175] However, HUD considers its reporting techniques to be reasonably accurate for homeless in shelters and programs in its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.[176][177]

Tracking and counting

The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 may also provide new healthcare options for the homeless, particularly through the optional expansion of Medicaid. A 2013 Yale study showed that a substantial proportion of the chronically homeless population will be able to obtain Medicaid coverage if states expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,[171] although efforts will be needed to help the homeless enroll in Medicaid.

There are government avenues which provide resources for the development of healthcare for the homeless. Although these resources are limited they have been able to make an impact in the homeless community. The Bureau of Primary Health Care has a health care for the homeless program which provides grants to fund the delivery of healthcare to the homeless.[169] According to 2011 UDS data community health centers were able to provide service to 1,087,431 homeless individuals.[170] Furthermore there are many nonprofit and religious organizations which provide healthcare services to the homeless. These organizations also contribute to the large need which exists for expanding healthcare for the homeless.

A report commissioned by homeless charity Crisis in 2011 found that on average homeless people have a life expectancy of 47 years, 30 years younger than the rest of the population.[168]

A 2011 study led by Dr. Rebecca T. Brown in Boston, Massachusetts conducted by the Institute for Aging Research (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program found the elderly homeless population had "higher rates of geriatric syndromes, including functional decline, falls, frailty and depression, than seniors in the general population and that many of these conditions may be easily treated if detected". The report was published in the Journal of Geriatric Internal Medicine.[167]

In June 2008, in Boston, Massachusetts, the Jean Yawkey Place, a four-story, 77,653-square-foot (7,214.2 m2) building, was opened by the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. It is an entire full service building on the Boston Medical Center campus dedicated to providing health care for homeless people. It also contains a long term care facility, the Barbara McInnis House, which expanded to 104 beds, and is the first and largest medical respite program for homeless people in the United States.[164][165][166]

In 2004, Boston Health Care for the Homeless in conjunction with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council published a medical manual called "The Health Care of Homeless Persons", edited by James J. O'Connell, M.D., specifically for the treatment of the homeless population.[163]

In 1999, Dr. Susan Barrow of the Columbia University Center for Homelessness Prevention Studies reported in a study that the "age-adjusted death rates of homeless men and women were 4 times those of the general US population and 2 to 3 times those of the general population of New York City".[162]

There has been an ongoing concern and studies about the health and wellness of the older homeless population, typically ages fifty to sixty four years of age, and even older, as to whether they are significantly more sickly than their younger counterparts and if they are under-served.[160][161]

There are many organizations providing free care to homeless people in countries which do not offer free medical treatment organised by the state, but the services are in great demand given the limited number of medical practitioners. For example, it might take months to get a minimal dental appointment in a free-care clinic. Communicable diseases are of great concern, especially tuberculosis, which spreads more easily in crowded homeless shelters in high density urban settings.[159]

The conditions affecting homeless people are somewhat specialized and have opened a new area of medicine tailored to this population. Skin conditions, including scabies, are common because homeless people are exposed to extreme cold in the winter and they have little access to bathing facilities. They have problems caring for their feet[155] and have more severe dental problems than the general population.[156] Diabetes, especially untreated, is widespread in the homeless population.[157] Specialized medical textbooks have been written to address this for providers.[158]

This problem is far less acute in countries which provide free-at-use health care, such as the UK, where hospitals are open-access day and night, and make no charges for treatment. In the US, free-care clinics, for homeless and other people, do exist in major cities, but they often attract more demand than they can meet.[154]

Obtaining replacement identification is difficult. Without an address, birth certificates cannot be mailed. Fees may be cost-prohibitive for impoverished persons. And some states will not issue birth certificates unless the person has photo identification, creating a Catch-22.[153]

Homeless people often find it difficult to document their date of birth or their address. Because homeless people usually have no place to store possessions, they often lose their belongings, including their identification and other documents, or find them destroyed by police or others. Without a photo ID, homeless persons cannot get a job or access many social services. They can be denied access to even the most basic assistance: clothing closets, food pantries, certain public benefits, and in some cases, emergency shelters.

There are significant challenges in treating homeless people who have psychiatric disorders, because clinical appointments may not be kept, their continuing whereabouts are unknown, their medicines are not taken and monitored, medical and psychiatric histories are not accurate, and for other reasons. Because many homeless people have mental illnesses, this has presented a crisis in care.[77][151][152]

Health care for homeless people is a major public health challenge.[148] Homeless people are more likely to suffer injuries and medical problems from their lifestyle on the street, which includes poor nutrition,[149] exposure to the severe elements of weather, and a higher exposure to violence (robberies, beatings, and so on). Yet at the same time, they have little access to public medical services or clinics.[150]

Health care

  • Outdoors: On the ground or in a sleeping bag, tent, or improvised shelter, such as a large cardboard box, dumpster, in a park or vacant lot.
  • Tent cities: Ad hoc campsites of tents and improvised shelters consisting of tarpaulins and blankets often near industrial and institutionally zoned real estate such as rail yards, highways and high transportation veins. A few more elaborate tent cities, such as Dignity Village, are actually hybrids of tent cities and shantytowns. Tent cities frequently consist only of tents and fabric improvised structures, with no semi-permanent wood structures at all.
  • Shantytowns: Ad hoc dwelling sites of improvised shelters and shacks, usually near rail yards, interstates and high transportation veins. Some shanty towns have interstitial tenting areas, but the predominant feature consists of the hard structures. Each pad of site tends to accumulate roofing, sheathing, plywood, and nailed two by fours.
  • Derelict structures: abandoned or condemned buildings
  • Squatting in an unoccupied structure where a homeless person may live without payment and without the owner's knowledge or permission.
  • Vehicles: Cars or trucks are used as a temporary or sometimes long-term living refuge, for example by those recently evicted from a home. Some people live in [140]
  • Public places: Parks, bus or train stations, public libraries, airports, public transportation vehicles (by continual riding where unlimited passes are available), hospital lobbies or waiting areas, college campuses, and 24-hour businesses such as coffee shops. Many public places use security guards or police to prevent people from loitering or sleeping at these locations for a variety of reasons, including image, safety, and comfort.[141][142]
    Homeless people in San'ya district, Tokyo, Japan.
  • [140]
  • Inexpensive boarding houses: Also called flophouses, they offer cheap, low-quality temporary lodging.
  • Residential hotels, where a bed as opposed to an entire room can be rented cheaply in a dorm-like environment.
  • Inexpensive motels also offer cheap, low-quality temporary lodging. However, some who can afford housing live in a motel by choice. For example, David and Jean Davidson spent 22 years at a UK Travelodge.[143]
  • 24-hour Internet cafes are now used by over 5,000 Japanese "Net cafe refugees". An estimated 75% of Japan's 3,200 all-night internet cafes cater to regular overnight guests, who in some cases have become their main source of income.[144]
  • Friends or family: Temporarily sleeping in dwellings of friends or family members ("couch surfing"). Couch surfers may be harder to recognize than street homeless people[145]
  • Underground tunnels such as abandoned subway, maintenance, or train tunnels are popular among the permanent homeless.[146][147] The inhabitants of such refuges are called in some places, like New York City, "Mole People". Natural caves beneath urban centers allow for places where people can congregate. Leaking water pipes, electric wires, and steam pipes allow for some of the essentials of living.

There are many places where a homeless person might seek refuge.

A homeless person's shelter under a fallen willow tree in Australia.


In 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veterans Families Initiative, SSVF, began funding private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives to provide supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing. Supportive Services for Veteran Families [138]

In September 2010, it was reported that the Housing First Initiative had significantly reduced the chronic homeless single person population in Boston, Massachusetts, although homeless families were still increasing in number. Some shelters were reducing the number of beds due to lowered numbers of homeless, and some emergency shelter facilities were closing, especially the emergency Boston Night Center.[137]

In 2010 in New York City, where there were over 36,000 homeless people in 2009,[134] there was a mobile video exhibit in the streets showing a homeless person on a screen and asking onlookers and passersby to text with their cellphones a message for him, and they also could donate money by cellphones to the organization Pathways to Housing.[135][136]

In October 2009, as part of the city's Leading the Way initiative, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston dedicated and opened the Weintraub Day Center which is the first city-operated day center for chronically homeless persons. It is a multi-service center, providing shelter, counseling, healthcare, housing assistance, and other support services. It is a 3,400-square-foot (320 m2) facility located in the Woods Mullen Shelter. It is also meant to reduce the strain on the city's hospital emergency rooms by providing services and identifying health problems before they escalate into emergencies. It was funded by $3 million in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Massachusetts Medical Society and Alliance Charitable Foundation,[132] and the United States Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).[133]

Applications for Boston Housing Authority were being handed out and filled out and submitted. This is an attempt to enact by outreach the Housing First initiative, federally mandated. Boston's Mayor, Thomas Menino, was quoted as saying "The solution to homelessness is permanent housing". Still, this is a very controversial strategy, especially if the people are not able to sustain a house with proper community, health, substance counseling, and mental health supportive programs.[131]

In Boston, Massachusetts, in September 2007, an outreach to homeless people was established in the Boston Common, after some arrests and shootings, and in anticipation of the cold winter ahead. This outreach targets homeless people who would normally spend their sleeping time on the Boston Common, and tries to get them into housing, trying to skip the step of an emergency shelter.

In sobriety. The members earn incentives through continued participation and progress, culminating in educational scholarships and assistance in finding permanent housing and employment. Back on My Feet counted a total of 400 homeless runners in nine cities after five years, and by the beginning of 2013 counted 10 different city chapters in the United States, with four more chapters planned by the end of the year.[129][130]

Carrfour Supportive Housing,[128] a nonprofit organization established in 1993 by the Homeless Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce – develops, operates and manages innovative housing communities for individuals and families in need through a unique approach combining affordable housing with comprehensive, on-site supportive services. As the leading not-for-profit provider of supportive housing in Florida, Carrfour has supplied homes for more than 10,000 formerly homeless men, women and children since its founding.

Though the Bowery was once synonymous with homelessness, it has since become a Manhattan neighborhood where high-priced luxury condominiums are being erected.

[127] Miami, Florida's

Housing First is an initiative to help homeless people reintegrate into society, and out of homeless shelters. It was initiated by the federal government's Interagency Council on Homelessness. It asks cities to come up with a plan to end chronic homelessness. In this direction, there is the belief that if homeless people are given independent housing to start, with some proper social supports, then there would be no need for emergency homeless shelters, which it considers a good outcome. However this is a controversial position.[125][126]

Helping the homeless in New York City (2008)

United States

The current program, governed by the Supported Assistance Act 1994, specifies that "the overall aim of SAAP is to provide transitional supported accommodation and related support services, in order to help people who are homeless to achieve the maximum possible degree of self-reliance and independence. This legislation has been established to help the homeless people of the nation and help rebuild the lives of those in need. The cooperation of the states also helps enhance the meaning of the legislation and demonstrates their desire to improve the nation as best they can.

In Australia the domestic violence [3]. They provide accommodation such as refuges, shelters and half-way houses, and offer a range of supported services. The Commonwealth has assigned over $800 million between 2000 and 2005 for the continuation of SAAP.


In October 2009, the Boston Globe carried a story on so-called cyberbegging, or Internet begging, which was reported to be a new trend worldwide.[124]

Invented in 2005, in Seattle, Bumvertising, an informal system of hiring homeless people to advertise by a young entrepreneur, is providing food, money, and bottles of water to sign-holding homeless in the Northwest. Homeless advocates accuse the founder, Ben Rogovy, and the process, of exploiting the poor and take particular offense to the use of the word "bum" which is generally considered pejorative.[122][123]

Homeless people have been known to commit crimes just to be sent to jail or prison for food and shelter. In police slang, this is called "three hots and a cot" referring to the three hot daily meals and a cot to sleep on given to prisoners.

Homeless people can also provide valuable already engaged in such activities.[120] In addition, rather than sorting waste at landfills, ... they can also collect litter found on/besides the road to earn an income.[121]

Another option is busking: performing tricks, playing music, drawing on the sidewalk, or offering some other form of entertainment in exchange for donations. In cities where plasmapheresis centers still exist, homeless people may generate income through frequent visits to these centers.

While some homeless have paying jobs, some must seek other methods to make money. Begging or panhandling is one option, but is becoming increasingly illegal in many cities. Despite the stereotype, not all homeless people panhandle, and not all panhandlers are homeless.[118][119]

Many non-profit organizations such as street newspapers or magazines: publications designed to provide employment opportunity to homeless people or others in need by street sale.

Girl begging in Ladakh, India on 26 July 2007

Income sources

While some homeless people are known to have community with one another,[115] providing each other various types of support,[116] people who are not homeless also may provide them friendship, food, homeless ministry, or may be done on an individual basis. In Los Angeles, a collaboration between the Ostrow School of Dentistry of University of Southern California and the Union Rescue Mission shelter offer homeless people in the Skid Row area free dental services.[117]

Social supports

Social Security Income/Social Security Disability Income, Access, Outreach, Recovery Program (SOAR) SOAR is a national project funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that is designed to increase access to SSI/SSDI for eligible adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homelessness and have a mental illness and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder. Using a 3-pronged approach of Strategic Planning, Training, and Technical Assistance (TA), the SOAR TA Center coordinates this effort at the state and community level.[114]

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration have a special Section 8 housing voucher program called VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing), or HUD-VASH, which gives out a certain number of Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable US armed forces veterans.[112] The HUD-VASH program has shown success in housing many homeless veterans.[113]

In 1998, a study by Koegel and Schoeni of a homeless population in Los Angeles, California, reported that a significant number of homeless do not participate in government assistance programs, and the authors reported being puzzled as to why that was, with the only possible suggestion from the evidence being that transaction costs were perhaps too high.[111]

Most countries provide a variety of services to assist homeless people. They often provide food, shelter and clothing and may be organized and run by community organizations (often with the help of volunteers) or by government departments. These programs may be supported by government, charities, churches and individual donors.

Assistance and resources

[110] The

National Coalition for the Homeless

[109] Programs and operations vary among the 7,546 centers across the United States, so individuals and families should contact their local Salvation Army through the national website to find out what is available[109] Families and needy individuals are also able to access emergency food, housing, and utility assistance.[109] They also provide educational, counseling, and vocational services to individuals, youth, and families who are experiencing homelessness.[109] Their housing and homeless services include group homes, emergency shelters, and transitional living centers that provide housing, food, and overnight shelter.[109]

The Salvation Army


Applicant Qualifications for Habitat Homes Partner Family Requirements
Be citizens or legal residents Put in sweat-equity hours to help build his/her own home and the homes of others
Prove they have a steady income Make a down payment that is affordable
Have good credit Pay mortgage payments on time
Earn a monthly income that is within the household minimum and maximum limits Attend homeowner education classes
Maintain a savings account over a certain period of time

Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 and has grown into a world leader in reducing homelessness through buildling homes.[106] Habitat is an international, nonprofit, Christian housing ministry that believes every person should have a place to live that is decent, safe, and affordable.[107] Habitat homes are built and repaired all over the world through volunteer labor and donations.[107] Partner families are able to purchase their homes at no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or other innovative financing options.[107] Habitat runs on volunteer hours and donations, with homeowners investing hundreds of hours of their own time and labor into the building of their home and the homes of others.[107] The mortgage payments paid by homeowners each month are used to fund the building of additional Habitat homes.[107]

Habitat for Humanity

Existing social support organizations

An example of how to overcome these obstacles and encourage greater voter participation among low income and homeless citizens was done by the National Coalition for the Homeless and other national advocacy and grassroots social movement groups. These groups collaborated in creating a manual that seeks to promote voting access for low income and homeless persons to ensure that those who are economically disadvantaged maintain an active role and voice in shaping their futures. The manual is designed to provide ideas to help overcome the many obstacles that prevent people experiencing homelessness from becoming registered, active voters. View manual here: [2] By working together with homeless persons, low income individuals, and advocates around the country, grassroots social movement organizations can work alongside homeless and low income persons to make their voices heard on Election Day.

The presence of influential allies is imperative to forming political opportunity structures for the homeless population.[100] Equal access to the right to vote is a crucial part of maintaining a democracy. Voting gives people the option to play a part in deciding the direction of their communities by voicing their opinions on issues that are important and relevant to their lives. Each election, low income and homeless individuals vote at a lower rate than people with higher incomes, despite the fact that many policy decisions directly impact people who are economically disadvantaged. Currently, issues such as raising the minimum wage and funding certain social welfare and housing programs are being debated in the U.S. Congress and in communities around the country. In order for our government to represent the people, citizens must vote—especially those who are economically disadvantaged.[105]

Political action: voting

Homeless shelters can become grounds for community organization and recruitment of homeless individuals into social movements for their own cause by ensuring decent conditions at these shelters. Cooperation between the shelter and an elected representative from the homeless community at each shelter can serve as the backbone of this form of initiative. The representative presents and forwards problems, dissatisfaction, and new ideas to the director and staff of the shelters. A few examples of possible problems are ways to deal with drugs, alcohol, and conflict. SAND (The Danish National Organization for Homeless People) is one example of this form of organizational empowerment.[1] Issues reported at the homeless shelters are then addressed by SAND at the regional or national level. To open further dialogue, SAND organizes regional discussion forums where invited staff from the shelters, homeless representatives, and local authorities meet to discuss dilemmas and practices at the shelters.[100]

Organizing around homeless shelters

Photo of housing initiative for the homeless

Many housing initiatives have taken place that are orientated toward involving the homeless in the process of building and maintaining affordable shared housing. This process works as a double impact by not only providing housing but also employment. One example of this form of initiative is that of the nonprofit organization Living Solutions located in downtown San Diego, CA. This community organization initiative provides the homeless population with a source of housing as well as employment in the building of affordable homes. The initiative also builds empowerment by expecting residents to assume responsibility in maintaining these homes. Residents are responsible for all household duties, including: menu planning, budgeting, shopping, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and home maintenance. The environment of responsibility over a living space fosters a sense of ownership as well as involvement in all parts of the decision-making process.[104]

Community organization housing initiative


Mainstream programs initiated by the Department of Labor have included the Workforce Investment Act, One-Stop Career Centers, and a Community Voice Mail system that helps to connect individuals around the country with local resources.[103] In addition, targeted labor programs have included the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Project, Disability Program Navigator Initiative, ending chronic homelessness through employment and housing projects, Job Corps, and the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP).[103]

The United States Department of Labor has sought to address one of the main causes of homelessness, a lack of meaningful and sustainable employment, through targeted training programs and an increase in access to employment opportunities that can lend themselves to self-sustainability.[101] This has included the development of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which addresses homelessness on the federal level in addition to connecting individuals to resources at the state level.[102] All individuals who are in need of assistance are able, in theory, to access employment and training services under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), although this is contingent upon funding and program support by the government, with Veterans also being able to utilize the Veterans Workforce Investment Program.[101] Under the Department of Labor is the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), which offers a variety of programs targeted at ending homelessness among Veterans.[101] The Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP) is the only national program that is exclusively focused on assisting Veterans as they reenter the workforce.[101] In addition, the VETS program also has an Incarcerated Veterans' Transition Program as well as services that are unique to female Veterans.[101]


A homeless man sleeping in a parking lot

There are many community organizations and social movements around the world who have chosen to take action on the issue of homelessness. They have sought to counteract the causes and the consequences by starting initiatives of organizing those affected by homelessness towards self-sufficiency in core areas of sustainability. Social movements tend to follow a [100] The goal of these different groups is that they are made up of and run by a mixture of allies of the homeless population as well as members of the population themselves to break stereotyped images of the homeless as being weak and excluded and to ensure that the voice of those most affected by homelessness is clearly heard.

From homelessness to self-sufficiency

There have been many violent crimes committed against people who are homeless.[96] A 2007 study found that the rate of such crimes is increasing.[97][98] In the United States in 2013 there were 109 attacks on homeless people, an increase of 24 per cent on the previous year, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Eighteen of those attacked died as a result. In July 2014 three boys 15, 16 and 18, were arrested and charged with beating to death two homeless men with bricks and a metal pole in Albuquerque.[99]

Victimization by violent crimes

The homeless are often obliged to adopt various strategies of self-presentation in order to maintain a sense of dignity, which constrains their interaction with passers-by and leads to suspicion and stygmatization by the mainstream public.[94] Homelessness is also a risk factor for depression caused by prejudice (i.e. "deprejudice"). When someone is prejudiced against people who are homeless and then becomes homeless themselves, their anti-homelessness prejudice turns inward, causing depression. "Mental disorders, physical disability, homelessness, and having a sexually transmitted infection are all stigmatized statuses someone can gain despite having negative stereotypes about those groups." [95]

There is sometimes corruption and theft by the employees of a shelter as evidenced by a 2011 investigative report by FOX 25 TV in Boston wherein a number of Boston public shelter employees were found stealing large amounts of food over a period of time from the shelter's kitchen for their private use and catering.[92][93]

  • Reduced access to health care and dental services.
  • Limited access to education.
  • Increased risk of suffering from violence and abuse.
  • General rejection or discrimination from other people.
  • Loss of usual relationships with the mainstream
  • Not being seen as suitable for employment.
  • Reduced access to banking services
  • Reduced access to communications technology
  • Targeting by municipalities to exclude from public space[91]

Homeless people face many problems beyond the lack of a safe and suitable home. They are often faced with many social disadvantages also, reduced access to private and public services, gaps in their personal infrastructures, and reduced access to vital necessities:[90]

  • medical problems
  • personal security, quiet, and privacy, especially for sleeping
  • safekeeping of bedding, clothing and possessions, which may have to be carried at all times
  • hygiene and sanitary facilities
  • cleaning and drying of clothes
  • obtaining, preparing and storing food in quantities
  • keeping contacts, without a permanent location or mailing address
  • hostility and legal powers against urban vagrancy.

The basic problem of homelessness is the need for personal shelter, warmth and safety. Other difficulties include:

Basic items belonging to a person made homeless due to a housing shortage in Jerusalem, Israel.
Homeless person sleeping in the entrance zone of a German shop
Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska.


In western countries such as the United States, the typical homeless person is male and single,[87] with the Netherlands reporting 80% of homeless people aged 18–65 to be men. Some cities have particularly high percentages of males in homeless populations, with men comprising 85% of the homeless in Dublin.[88] Non-white people are also overrepresented in homeless populations, with such groups two and half times more likely to be homeless in the US. The median age of homeless people is approximately 35.[89]


A substantial percentage of the U.S. homeless population are individuals who are chronically unemployed or have difficulty managing their lives effectively due to prolonged and severe drug and/or alcohol abuse.[85] Substance abuse can cause homelessness from behavioral patterns associated with addiction that alienate an addicted individual's family and friends who could otherwise provide support during difficult economic times. Increased wealth disparity and income inequality causes distortions in the housing market that push rent burdens higher, making housing unaffordable.[86] Dr. Paul Koegel of RAND Corporation, a seminal researcher in first generation homelessness studies and beyond, divided the causes of homelessness into structural aspects and then individual vulnerabilities.[75]

  • Unavailability of employment opportunities.
  • Poverty, caused by many factors including unemployment and underemployment.
  • Lack of accessible healthcare. People who have some kind of chronic and weakening disease but cannot get healthcare either because they don't have money to afford it or because the government will not give it to them are simply too weak to go and work every day.
  • Abuse by government or by other people with power.
  • War or armed conflict.
  • Natural Disasters, including but not limited to earthquakes and hurricanes.[76]
  • Mental disorder,[77] where mental health services are unavailable or difficult to access. A United States Federal survey done in 2005 indicated that at least one-third of homeless men and women have serious psychiatric disorders or problems.[78]
  • Disability, especially where disability services are non-existent or poor performing.
  • Traumatic brain injury, a disease which according to a Canadian survey is widespread among homeless people and can be chalked up for around or 70% of respondents to a time "before the onset of homelessness".[79]
  • Social exclusion, including because of sexual orientation and gender identity[80]
  • Substance abuse
    Homeless veteran in New York
  • Lack of affordable housing.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Relationship breakdown, particularly in relation to young people and their parents.[81]
  • Prison release and re-entry into society.
  • Forced eviction – In many countries, people lose their homes by government order to make way for newer upscale high rise buildings, roadways, and other governmental needs.[82] The compensation may be minimal, in which case the former occupants cannot find appropriate new housing and become homeless.
  • Mortgage foreclosures where mortgage holders see the best solution to a loan default is to take and sell the house to pay off the debt. The popular press made an issue of this in 2008.[83]
  • Foreclosures on landlords often lead to eviction of their tenants. "The Sarasota, Florida, Herald Tribune noted that, by some estimates, more than 311,000 tenants nationwide have been evicted from homes this year after lenders took over the properties."[84]

Major reasons and causes for homelessness as documented by many reports and studies include:[71][72][73][74][75]

Homeless street dwellers in Mumbai, India.

Causes of homelessness

Social science

Nevertheless, the state is still obliged to give permanent shelter for free to anybody who needs better living conditions or has no permanent registration, because the right to shelter is still included in the constitution. This may take many years, though. Nobody still has the right to strip a person of permanent residency without their will, even the owner of the apartment. This creates problems for banks because mortgage loans became increasingly popular. Banks are obliged to provide a new, cheaper flat for a person instead of the old one if the person fails to repay the loan, or wait until all people who live in the flat are dead. Several projects of special cheap 'social' flats for those who failed to repay mortgages were proposed to facilitate mortgage market.

After the breakup of the USSR the problem of homelessness sharpened dramatically, partially because of the legal vacuum of the early 1990s with some laws contradicting each other and partially because of a high rate of frauds in the realty market. In 1991 articles 198 and 209 of Russian criminal code which instituted criminal penalty for not having permanent residence were abolished. Because most flats had been privatized and many people sold their last shelter without successfully buying another, there was a sharp increase of homeless. Renting apartments from a private owner became widespread (which usually only gives temporary registration and apartment owner could evict the leaser after the contract is over, or if the money was not paid). In Moscow, the first overnight shelter for homeless was opened in 1992.[70] In the late 1990s certain amendments in law were implemented to reduce the rise in homelessness, such as prohibition of selling last flat with registered children.

There were also virtually no empty and unused apartments in the cities: any flat where nobody was registered was immediately lent by the state at symbolic price to others who needed better living conditions. If a person who had permanent registration could not pay for shelter, nobody had right to evict them, only to demand money through a court.

Immediately after the October Revolution a special program of "compression" ("уплотнение") was enabled: people who had no shelter were settled in flats of those who had large (4,5 or 6 room) flats with only one room left to previous owners. The flat was declared state property. This led to a large number of shared flats where several families lived simultaneously. Nevertheless the problem of complete homelessness was mostly solved as anybody could apply for a room or a place in dormitory (the number of shared flats steadily decreased after large-scale residential building program was implemented starting in the 1960s). By 1922 there were at least 7 million homeless children in Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I and the Russian Civil War.[69] This led to the creation of a large number of orphanages. By the 1930s the USSR declared the abolition of homelessness and any citizen was obliged to have a propiska – a place of permanent residency. Nobody could be stripped of propiska without substitution or refuse it without a confirmed permission (called "order") to register in another place. If someone wanted to move to another city or expand their living area, he had to find a partner who wanted to mutually exchange the flats. The right for shelter was secured in the Soviet constitution. Not having permanent residency was legally considered a crime.

After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, major cities experienced a large influx of former peasants who sought jobs as industrial workers in rapidly developing Russian industry. These people often lived in harsh conditions, sometimes renting a room, shared between several families. There also was a large number of shelterless homeless.

Russia and the USSR

In late 2009, some homeless advocacy organizations, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless, reported and published perceived problems with the HEARTH Act of 2009 as a HUD McKinney-Vento Reauthorization bill, especially with regard to privacy, definitional ineligibility, community roles, and restrictions on eligible activities.[68]

The HEARTH Act also codifies in law the Continuum of Care planning process, long a part of HUD's application process to assist homeless persons by providing greater coordination in responding to their needs. This final rule integrates the regulation for the definition of homeless, and the corresponding recordkeeping requirements, for the Shelter Plus Care program, and the Supportive Housing Program. This final rule also establishes the regulation for the definition developmental disability and the definition and recordkeeping requirements for homeless individual with a disability for the Shelter Plus Care program and the Supportive Housing Program.[67]

On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act into Public Law (Public Law 111-22 or "PL 111-22"), reauthorizing HUD's Homeless Assistance programs. It was part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. The HEARTH act allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs, and new homeless categories. In the eighteen months after the bill's signing, HUD must make regulations implementing this new McKinney program.[65][66]

Homelessness has migrated toward rural and suburban areas. The number of homeless people has not changed dramatically but the number of homeless families has increased according to a report of HUD.[60] The United States Congress appropriated $25 million in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for 2008 to show the effectiveness of Rapid Re-housing programs in reducing family homelessness.[61][62][63] In February 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, part of which addressed homelessness prevention, allocating $1.5 billion for a Homeless Prevention Fund. Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) program's name was changed to Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) program, and funds were re-allocated to assist with homeless prevention and rapid re-housing for families and individuals.[64]

Homeless children in the United States.[56] The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[57] 2012,[58] and 2013[59] at about three times their number in 1983.[58]

Alternatively, some social service entities that help homeless people now employ formerly homeless individuals to assist in the care process. [55]

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