Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Do People Become Homeless

In Internet time, this article is ancient.  In homelessness time, it's even older.  The content of this article, although correct at the time of the writing, needs to be rewritten in light of changes currently taking place in the homelessness industry.   I'll keep this article here as a historical perspective.  Just know that a lot of the info herein no longer applies.   I guess I'll have to write yet another article on this subject - a 2014 version.  I'll put a link here once it's written.  Thanks.

I have recently rewritten this blog post, hopefully with more clarity.   You can find it at

There is only one path to homelessness, but there are many reasons why it happens. And the differences in those reasons are very important, they are more important than the cause itself.

The Difference between How and Why

Let me digress for just a moment here. The difference between "how" a person became homeless, and "why" they became homeless is important to consider. Often, people confuse those two words, they use them interchangeably. I think this is perhaps the biggest reason why people become confused about homelessness, about why it exists, and what can or should be done about it. In short, "how" describes only the process of becoming homeless, the steps taken. "Why" is what we consider when determining the reasons something happened, why a person ended up on that path to homelessness.

Though it is important to know how people become homeless, the true cause of homelessness is found by asking why they are homeless. Understanding the difference between how and why people become homeless directly effects the process of helping people overcome homelessness. If people only focus on the "how," and disregard the "why," they will fail every time, at ending homelessness.

Homelessness is caused by a lack of money

Every single person who becomes homeless does so the same way, they all follow the same basic path. They all ended up in a situation where they didn't have enough money to pay for a place to live. Either they lost a job, spent all the money they had, or they left a home where someone else was paying the bills. That's "how" they all become homeless.

Two types of homeless people

In answering the question, "why" they become homeless, why they ended up with a lack of money, at this point we find two distinguishable types of homeless people. There are those people who become homeless only because of financial mismanagement. How they organized their finances was insufficient to deal with necessities required to maintain a home. They made a few incorrect decisions with their money causing them to have inadequate funds to pay for housing. For this group, it is that simple. And for them, the solution to end their homelessness is equally as simple. All they need do is correct their financial situation and in a very short amount of time, they will find themselves back in a home. For these people, the "how" and the "why" of their homelessness is, for the most part, one and the same. Their homeless experience lasts a very short time - from just a day or two, to a few months at the most. Often, these people fix their homeless situation by themselves, or with very little assistance. The majority of people who become homeless fall into this category.

All other homeless people fall into a separate category. These people also experience a financial crisis, but for different reasons. Their decision making processes are impaired by extenuating circumstances, such as mental illness, or addictions. It is important to note that a person does not have to be completely crazy to have a mental health condition that interferes with their decision making process. Depression or anxiety, or other brain function differences, such as Asperger's Syndrome, can impair their abilities and cause them to become homeless. All of the people in this category require treatment specific to their condition before they can successfully leave homelessness. This treatment involves teaching coping skills so that these people can effectively control their condition and prevent it from interfering with their decision making processes. The amount of time it takes for these people to leave homelessness depends on the severity of their condition and the quality of treatment they receive. There are fewer people becoming homeless this way, but because very few services are available to them, their homelessness can last a long time. Many homeless people die while still homeless and awaiting help.

With homelessness, we have one "how" and two "whys."

How people homeless is always due to financial mismanagement. Why people people become homeless is due to either improper decision making only, or improper decision making due to conditions that interfere with a person's decision making process.

It is of the utmost importance that this distinction between types of homeless people be made. Confusing the two types will make solving homelessness more difficult. It is wrong to assume that all homeless people have a mental health condition or addiction problem. Many people will not hire a homeless person or give them financial assistance because of this assumption and may unnecessarily extend a person's homelessness. At the same time, it would be a mistake to give a job, or money, to a homeless person who has a mental health condition or addiction because they may not be able to handle those responsibilities successfully. Not only is it a waste of resources, it could lead to a worsening of their condition. Before things like a job, or money, are given to a person with those extenuating circumstances, it is important to first determine if they have received proper treatment and have developed adequate coping skills. Know also that such assistance to this type of homeless person may have only a limited effect, easing their homelessness, but not curing it outright.

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