Roots for Homelessness

roots for homelessnessUnderstanding the reasons for homelessness sheds light on the design and development of policy or intervention to help the homeless. Both social forces and individual risk factors can lead to homelessness (Tessler, Rosenheck & Gamache, 2001).

Societal factors that are resulting in greater numbers of homeless include the increasing cost of living, diminishing community resources, and shrinking retirement benefits, reduced social services, reduced availability of affordable rental housing, declining personal incomes, job loss, the reduced purchasing power of public support payments, physical abuse in the household, problematic relationship with partner/relative or death or illness in family, and etc. (Tessler, Rosenheck & Gamache, 2001).

Individual risk factors, such as age, education, race, health status, and being a veteran, are associated with homelessness. The general research has shown that people who are male, who belong to an ethnic minority group, who are less than 45 years of age, unemployed, with a major psychiatric or substance use disorder, and a history of family instability in childhood have higher risk of falling into homelessness (Burt, 1992). Also, research shows that psychological factors related to traumatic experience and personality disorder strongly predict chronic homelessness (Maguire, et al., 2009).

More research is needed to explore the implications of different reasons for homelessness for better treatment. Whether the homelessness results more from social factors or individual reasons? The homeless person’s subjective understanding of the roots of his homelessness may influence his self-perceived need for individual or tailored service and treatment regimen. Additional research is also needed both to establish the most effective interventions for homelessness, and to evaluate the effective transfer of research knowledge from research to service delivery settings.


Burt, M. A. (1992). Over the edge: The growth of homelessness in the 1980s. New York and Washington, DC: Russell Sage Foundation and Urban Institute Press.

Maguire, N.J., Johnson, R., Vostanis, P., Keats, H. and Remington, R.E. (2009). Homelessness and complex trauma: a review of the literature. Southampton, UK, University of Southampton

Tessler, R., Rosenheck, R., & Gamache, G.(2001). Gender differences in self-reported reasons for homelessness, Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 10 (3): 243-254