Are the homeless hopeless? : an exploration of the policy implications of different definitions of homelessness

Janet Lai Chun Chung
This thesis explores why the commonly used broad definition of homelessness endorsed by many analysts and academics in the contemporary literature is not useful in devising effective housing policy to alleviate the most urgent needs of those who are without safe, healthy, permanent and affordable shelter. The broad definition views homelessness as the absence of permanent home over which inhabitants have personal control and which provides shelter, privacy, security at an affordable cost
more » ... r with ready access to social, economic and cultural public services. It is often contrasted with a narrow definition of homelessness. While the narrow definition only focus on the needs of the absolute homeless (i.e., people without a roof over their head), the broad definition employs a comprehensive perspective to take into consideration the needs of the at risk homeless (i.e., people who are at the risk of losing their home) as well. Housing analysts who endorse the broad definition of homelessness believe that by framing the issue in its wider context they may be able to induce public policy change to tackle homelessness broadly in the public agenda. However, contrary to this well-intended motive, this study finds that the broad definition may actually hinder policy decision making to respond effectively and efficiently to those who are most in need. It does so for five reasons: 1) its broadness is inconsistent with the ideological and political realities in a homeownership dominant housing system; 2) it contains an inadequately formulated category of "at risk homeless" which ignores or dismisses the housing difficulties (e.g., affordability, suitability and adequacy) of the at risk homeowners; 3) it fails to establish precise boundaries of the broadly defined homeless population mainly due to technical and political ramifications; 4) it is weak in coalescing inter-agency, community and individual support and advocacy; and 5) the broader the definition the bigger the social problem and the more the public resources [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0100587 fatcat:v4qieyrtevhwlgxnqg6wl3a7qa