A Literature Review of Homelessness In The United States

Homelessness in the United States 

The homelessness crisis is a highly prevalent issue that the entirety of our country is facing. For reference, in an article written by Emo Zhao from the International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, she expresses that in the US between the years of “2007 and 2019, there were over half a million homeless people per night living on the streets” (Zhao). In a research article written by Deborah Finfgeld-Connett it was indicated that per year roughly “3.5 million Americans experience homelessness” (Connett). Across the board, rhetoric expresses that the homelessness crisis is multifaceted in nature, as a number of different factors have caused the problem to occur. In tandem with the catalyzation of the problem, varying approaches have been taken to address homelessness. In order to research the topic of homelessness further, this literature review explores the common attributes that play a role within homelessness. This review will focus on where homelessness stems from: unaffordable housing, the mental health crisis, the foster care system, as well the notion of unstable home environments. 


Unaffordable Housing

Across the United States, the cost of living is not equitable given the wages that people are paid; the surge in housing prices has pushed not only individuals but families into homelessness. In turn, the lack of affordable housing has caused those who are already homeless to have an increasingly difficult time finding and sustaining housing (Lind). In an article written by Diana Lind from the Architectural Record, she explains that the lack of affordable housing has pushed the inequality gap in our society to an increasingly far extent (Lind). A research paper in the Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness written by Diane Joy Irish & Stephen W. Stoeffler supports this claim by arguing that the inequality gap can be evidenced through the “19 million families” who are “cost burdened” in the US as a result of spending “50% or more of their income” on their place of residence. Irish and Stephen go on to dictate that, in spending half of their earnings on housing, families are having a challenging time affording other necessities leaving them financially insecure. Emo Zhao explains that the cycle of stress pertaining to housing insecurity is very grueling. In fact, living in poor-quality environments has been evidenced to lower one’s overall well-being, both mentally and physically. Zhao goes on to write that the impacts on individuals’ health creates problems that last for an extended period of time, and given the number of homeless individuals this is a major concern for the state of our public health in the United States (Zhao). In the research paper written by Irish and Stoeffler from the Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness, they detail that states are failing to recognize that as the cost of housing continues to rise, the wages people are paid needs to rise as well. Minimum wage jobs not paying nearly enough to sustain the cost of living in states in the United States. Because of  a failure to recognize this gap, those who are homeless are left stuck, and those who are struggling to pay for living, are met with insecurity of what their future will look like.  As a result of the non-livable wages individuals and families experience housing insecurity (Irish and Stoefller). 


Mental Health Crisis

As a result of the level of instability and a lack of access to resources, the mental health crisis among the homeless population in the United States is and has been exacerbated. Thus, when a person is homeless they are more susceptible to becoming mentally ill. Debroah K. Padgett wrote an article in the BJPsych Bulletin that was later published by Cambridge University Press in which she demonstrated that when compared with those who had stable housing, homeless individuals have disproportionately suffered from mental health struggles such as depression, suicidal ideation, misuse of substances, and trauma. Padgett explained that the exposure to the “natural elements” is a grueling experience and can be linked back to a lack of mental wellness among the homeless population (Padgett). In the study mentioned previously, done by Ema Zhao with International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, the research that the study conducted aimed at assessing the “key factors pertaining to the persistence of homelessness”. The study concluded that mental illness can be worsened and or onset when in the presence of homelessness. Zhao’s findings also added the notion of homelessness being difficult to “escape” when a person is struggling with mental illnesses (Zhao). These sources reckon that the mental health crisis disproportionately impacts the homeless community as a result of their living conditions.


Foster Care System and Growing Up in Unstable Home Environments

The foster care system and growing up in unstable home environments are both precursors for homelessness within the United States. Within the foster care system, there is a lack of resources available for young people when they “age out” of the system. With a lack of resources, youth are not given the level of support needed to successfully engage with society independently. Not only is homelessness impacting teens aging out of foster care but this problem has destructive effects on a larger population of young people. Those who have grown up in unstable home environments are at a higher risk of being homeless as well. The Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection wrote that, “4.2 million US adolescents, teens, and young adults experience at least one period of homelessness each year” (Gale). They go on to write that, young people in foster care, are provided with care up until they are an adult however, once they reach a legal age they are often left to fend for themselves. An article written by Shah MF, Liu Q, Mark Eddy J, Barkan S, Marshall D, Mancuso D, Lucenko B, Huber Ain, the American Journal of Community Psychology  dictates that there between “11% and 37% of youth aging out experience homelessness one or more times in the years following their transition”. Beyond that, “an additional 25–50%” of youth “experience housing instability”(Shah MF). The article by the American Journal of Community Psychology goes on to argue that as a result of not being equipped with a support system that most of their peers have, these young people are made to navigate challenging situations on their own (Shah MF, Liu Q, Mark Eddy J, Barkan S, Marshall D, Mancuso D, Lucenko B, Huber). Another journal which was written by JoAnn S. Lee, Gilbert Gimm, Maya Mohindroo, and Louise Lever from the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal wrote that “the transition to adulthood is especially difficult for youth who age out of the foster care system because they lack the normative social and financial support of family” (Lee). Thus, all of these sources express that as a result of there being limited resources, the foster care system does not effectively provide sufficient tools or support for these young people to live successfully on their own, making homelessness a higher risk for this population of young people. Among teens who are not in foster care, the article written by the Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection expresses that the nature of teen homelessness results from “family conflict, exposure to abuse or trauma, substance abuse, mental health problems, and low levels of academic achievement”. They go on to write that adolescents who identify within communities of color, particularly black, hispanic, and LGBTQ+ youth are at an additional space of vulnerability. Once the teens are homeless, they are in jeopardy of being exposed to “low levels of academic achievement, delinquency and contact with the criminal justice system, substance abuse, mental health concerns, and sexual exploitation,” (Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection). This puts these teens in an agonizing cycle. Homeless youth, both those who have aged out of foster care and those who end up homeless without ever having been in the system, are a population that needs more attention and support because of the risk levels that they are exposed to.



Homelessness in the United States is a growing issue that impacts millions of people across the country. With the prominence of unaffordable housing, a society that struggles from mental health issues, a broken foster care system, and a high rate of teens who are at risk because of their unstable home environment, it is evident that the homelessness crisis is out of hand. The concerning aspect of this review is that it only touches upon the tip of the iceberg.


Works Cited

Finfgeld-Connett, Deborah. “Becoming Homeless, Being Homeless, and Resolving 

Homelessness among Women.” Issues in Mental Health Nursing, vol. 31, no. 7, 2010, pp. 461–469., https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840903586404.

Irish, Diane Joy, and Stephen W. Stoeffler. “The Structural Nature of Family Homelessness: A 

Critical Analysis of the Intersection of Unaffordable Housing, Housing Insecurity, Non-Livable Wages, and Eviction.” Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness, 2023, pp. 1–10., https://doi.org/10.1080/10530789.2023.2187521.

Lee, JoAnn S., et al. “Assessing Homelessness and Incarceration among Youth Aging out of 

Foster Care, by Type of Disability.” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-022-00817-9.

LIND, DIANA. “Living in the U.S.: At What Cost? Rising Housing Prices Are Outpacing Wage 

Increases Nationwide, Threatening a Living Standard That Once Seemed an Inalienable Right.” Architectural Record, vol. 206, no. 10, Oct. 2018, pp. 80–83. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=a9h&AN=132093266&authtype=sso&custid=s3818721&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Padgett, Deborah K. “Homelessness, Housing Instability and Mental Health: Making The 

Connections.” BJPsych Bulletin, vol. 44, no. 5, 2020, pp. 197–201., https://doi.org/10.1192/bjb.2020.49.

Shah, Melissa Ford, et al. “Predicting Homelessness among Emerging Adults Aging out of 

Foster Care.” American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 60, no. 1-2, 2016, pp. 33–43., https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12098.

“Teen Homelessness.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In 

Context: Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999079/OVIC?u=usfca_gleeson&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=e2f048c5. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

Zhao, Emo. “The Key Factors Contributing to the Persistence of Homelessness.” International 

Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, vol. 30, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1–5., https://doi.org/10.1080/13504509.2022.2120109.

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