Is there Any Such Thing as Homelessness? Measurement, Explanation and Process in 'Homelessness' Research
Homelessness, however defined, is an outcome of earlier social and individual processes, but is it a social construction that classifies diverse circumstances and individuals under a convenient description, or can a discrete set of social processes, with clear lines of causation, be identified? This question is more than of academic interest, for if public authorities and campaigning organizations are to tackle a perceived social problem they need to know whether those groups or individuals classified as homeless are such as a result of similar or completely diverse antecedent circumstances. Furthermore, the resolution of the problem requires that there is some notion of its scale in a given location. This paper discusses definitional and explanatory issues in the context of the findings from two multi-method studies of homelessness in Plymouth and Torbay, UK. It concludes that the idea of a discrete category—that of 'homelessness' is not useful in the resolution of housing need resulting from heterogeneous antecedent conditions.