What Are the Causes of Homelessness?

  • Emotive reasons. Advocates of the alleviation of homelessness often need to communicate the issue in a simplistic and readily identifiable manner. In this case, stories of personal hardship and trauma are more effective than abstract discussions of the causes of homelessness.
  • Pragmatic reasons. The extremely complex causes and impacts of homelessness often lead to a feeling that it is too difficult to make structural links. Furthermore, officially recognised evidence is often lacking. Thus, the feeling arises that research and policy should only be concerned with issues to which they can provide immediate, practical solutions.
  • A variety of personal, intellectual and political reasons. Many people believe that homelessness arises from individual choices; people choose not to abide by society’s rules or make mistaken choices due to a limited understanding of the full consequences of their actions. Cooper (1995) claims that despite its often noble intentions, a pathological view of homelessness disempowers homeless people and limits the parameters of the debate by stripping people of their unique identity and replacing it with a negative stigma. Alcoholism, for example, is so closely tied to homelessness that, in Finnish, the modern popular words used for homeless people typically have their root in words for a single male alcoholic living under the bridges of the city. One of the words for homeless, ‘puliukko’ (old alcoholic), is derived from the words ‘ukko’ (old man) and ‘puli,’ which comes from the noun ‘pulituuri,’ meaning Why are pople homeless? 53 varnish/lacquer. In the 1980s Finland tried to ‘de-label’ homeless people in order to detach them from the alcoholic image. The result is a coded language in which homeless people are referred to as those having “certain individual needs and inclinations” (Glasser, 1994: 29).