The Causes and Impacts of Homelessness

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 3
Words: 1633
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Homeless individuals and families live without adequate shelters and basic needs. This is a category of people who face severe forms of economic and social conditions. There are hardly any homeless conditions that do not compromise human health or complicate their ability to access basic needs including, food, health, education and financial services. The homeless individuals with mental illnesses particularly face a higher risk or becoming casualties of some unlawful acts. The risk factors related to homelessness commonly happen concurrently with other societal factors such as intolerance, poverty and unemployment. For example, the homeless are denied access to formal education, health care, banking facilities and are exposed to crime and abuse among others. Liberalists argue that homelessness results from the general nature and the poor economic structures and the manner in which finances and resources are distributed in the society (Hurley, 2002). The liberalists claim that the poor economies cause unemployment making it difficult for the affected individuals to pay for housing and other essential services. Conversely, the conservatives view the homeless as deserving and lazy individuals given to drug addiction and that should not be offered any help. Conservatives believe that the society should not intervene in the conditions of the homeless population. Some extremists go to an extent of preventing people from offering help to the homeless population. They claim that many cases of homelessness occur due to personal faults and that the individuals ought to blame themselves for their condition.

Homelessness predominantly occurs in the developing countries where material resources are insufficient and underdeveloped. The increase in homelessness in the developed countries usually indicates uneven distribution of national resources. This is particularly evident in countries such as Canada and the United States. The condition is basically a consequence of the increasing poverty levels and lack of affordable housing which arise due to many other factors including the cost of rental housing.

This paper seeks to address homelessness as a major problem experienced in both the developed and underdeveloped nations. It then highlights the severe impacts of homelessness to individuals and the society at large. The paper then gives significant comparison between the different ideologies regarding homelessness including the liberal, conservative and extremist viewpoints. The paper also emphasizes on the major similarities and differences between homelessness in the developed and developing countries (Hurley, 2002).


According to Thompson (2007) there are between 100 million and 1 billion homeless people in the world. In 1987, the number of homeless people in Canada was between 100,000 and 250,000 out of a total population of 28 million people (Hargrave, 2005). There are, however, no accurate statistics of the homeless people in Canada. Canada’s National Secretariat on homelessness recently estimated the number of Canadians who are homeless as 150,000. Other reports give higher figures of up to 300,000 people. This lack of accurate data limits Canada’s ability to address the problem (Guest, 1997).


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

Causes of homelessness in Canada

Family Breakdown

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

Substance abuse

Drug abuse has been regarded as a major pathway to homelessness in the developing and developed countries. In Canada, the affected individuals remain without financial support. An assessment of some samples of families in Canada has recently revealed that families with substance abuse disorders are more likely to remain homeless than those without. In his article, Bistrich (1999), showed that about 30% of homeless people were raised in children’s homes or by parents who are psychologically unstable. Some of the homeless children were raised by alcoholic parents. Another 20 to 30 % have a criminal background or have been jailed in the past. These contribute to the rise in homelessness.

Unemployment and inadequate funds

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

Impact of homelessness on the homeless

Challenge in controlling children

Single parents experience psychological challenge of being homeless and a greater challenge of raising their children without the essential basic needs. In some cities, homeless parents have reported difficulty in controlling their children. There is increased conflict between children in temporary shelters than experienced by those in regular homes. Children do not understand the dramatic events and are therefore psychologically affected by distress (Zima, et al, 1994). Children born to homeless parents find it difficult to survive. Most of them die within the first twelve months (Fierman, et al, 1991). Academic development of homeless children is also disadvantaged. They perform poorly in schools because of the mobility challenges. Most of them change schools at least twice a year.

Sexual abuse

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

Poor health

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

Impacts of homelessness on the society at large

Increases rate of crime

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

Public Health challenge

At the extreme end of poverty, many individuals and families crowd the streets due to lack of housing. The social impact is that the overcrowding in refugee camps and on the streets exposes the affected individuals and the society to the dangers of getting new infections and diseases. Children suffer serious health issues and experience more complications. This later creates an unemployable class of individuals with weakened coping capabilities and who cannot offer the slightest social and physical support to the community (Zima, et al, 1994).

Creates economic complexity

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

Liberal and conservative ideologies on homelessness

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

Difference between homeless in developed and developing world

Correct data/census information

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

Social and health conditions

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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