ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Defining Homelessness

Updated on August 30, 2020
Emma Brisbane profile image

Easton is a psychology and criminology double major at the University of Denver

In the modern world, the concept of “homelessness” has undergone countless alterations as culture has evolved and society continues to advance. While one might assume that the definition of homelessness is straightforward and simply constitutes a person without a dwelling in which to live, sociologists and policy makers have been debating the ambiguous classification for decades due to a variety of complications. Defining homelessness is important because such classifications can determine who is eligible for particular social services (Montgomery et al. 769). From a law makers’ perspective, strict definitions allow for more accurate community portrayals that help to decide what policies would be most effective for the districts they oversee. However, it is important to remember that no single definition can fully encompass every experience of homelessness.

At the most fundamental level, homelessness involves a lack of housing. However, sociologists recognize that “homeless persons anchor the low end of a vast and growing wealth disparity in the United States (Lee et al. 502).” As this population continues to grow, the need for a more comprehensive definition has become imperative. Per the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, a homeless individual is defined as one who lacks “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (Lee et al. 504).” The definition also includes those who use public and privately operated shelters and institutions designed to provide temporary living accommodations. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a key piece of federal legislation, also emphasizes a definition linked to an absence of adequate nighttime housing while specifying selected locations such as shelters and institutional settings. However, the act differs from previous definitions due to its emphasis on homeless children and youths. This distinction is important since it has historically been difficult to classify children as being “homeless” rather than “run aways” (Lee et al. 503). These definitions all fall short, however, in that they almost exclusively apply to individuals experiencing chronic homelessness as opposed to transitional or episodic homelessness, thus reinforcing the fact that housing hardships fall on a continuum and therefore cannot easily be dichotomized into homeless and nonhomeless.

Through decades of studies, researchers have come to consensus on a conceptual model of explaining the reasons behind homelessness which incorporates both micro and macro antecedents. The macro portion of the model emphasizes structural forces such as economic downturns which cause a lack of affordable housing, demographic trends which cause increased competition within the working classes, and policy shifts surrounding relevant concepts such as mental health and welfare. The micro level, in contrast, focuses on how certain members of the population are more at risk of homelessness because of personal vulnerabilities and inadequate buffers. Both qualitative and quantitative studies have shown that early exposure to physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty, and housing instability increase the likelihood of future homelessness. Adult risk factors consist of mental health disorders, substance abuse, and instances of domestic abuse (Lee et al. 509).

The micro and macro levels work hand in hand as the stressful nature of structurally hard times, such as high unemployment and a tight housing market, help promote personal vulnerabilities, like unhealthy coping mechanisms, which further increase an individual’s risk of homelessness. However, there are buffer factors which can prevent one from becoming homeless. The most effective buffers include strong social ties to nonhomeless friends and social services such as housing subsidies (Lee et al. 510). Sadly, homelessness has been linked to intergenerational consequences, thus continuing the revolving door of poverty and further perpetuating the widening wealth disparity in the United States (Montgomery et al. 769). While every experience with homelessness is a unique blend of macro and micro trials, having strong social supports and effective government policies could play a large role in halting the ever-mounting homeless population.

Works Cited

Lee, Barrett A, et al. “The New Homelessness Revisited.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 36, no. 1, 2010, pp. 501–521.

Montgomery, Ann Elizabeth, et al. “Homelessness, Unsheltered Status, and Risk Factors for Mortality.” Public Health Reports (1974), vol. 131, no. 6, 2016, pp. 765–772.

© 2020 Easton B


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)