Toward an International Understanding of Homelessness

Homelessness, once considered a problem confined to Third World nations and to periods of war and economic depression, has recently emerged as a major social issue in most developed nations. In the United States, the number of articles published on the topic in both the popular and professional literatures has increased dramatically since 1980 and support for legislation, such as the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, and other policy initiatives continues to be strong. Social scientists have become very active in research on the topic of homelessness, with hundreds of studies having been completed in the last 20 years and many others now in progress throughout the country.

In the United States there now exists a large body of research on the topic, including a range of books and special issues on homelessness in psychology journals, including one in the Journal of Social Issues, which focused on urban homelessness in the United States. The present issue expands on this U.S.-based literature by considering the research literature on homelessness in developed nations outside of the United States. While those studying homelessness outside the United States can learn from the existing research in the United States, there is also much that we studying the problem in the United States can learn from our international colleagues. Furthermore, those not studying homelessness, both in and outside the United States, can learn from the present collection of articles about how different national contexts and research traditions can produce different methodological and policy approaches to an important social problem.

While a complete review of the findings of the recent U.S. literature on homelessness is beyond the scope of this introduction, a brief summary is provided. Areas of U.S. research with particular relevance will be considered in order to provide a starting point for the reader when evaluating the articles in this issue. Interspersed in the summary below, the approaches and findings from the United States will be contrasted with the international research represented in the remainder of this issue. A subsequent section will provide more explicit contrasts and highlight some similarities in the U.S. versus non-U.S. literatures. Following a synopsis of each article in this issue, the article ends by outlining the value of looking at findings beyond the United States.

Publication Date: 
United States