Homelessness in the United States

Brendan O'Flaherty

in The Oxford Handbook of Urban Economics and Planning

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780195380620
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Homelessness in the United States

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  • Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics


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Homelessness has become more common in developed countries, especially the United States. This article reviews definitions of homelessness, the temporal dimensions of how people experience homelessness, the determinants of the volume of homelessness, the characteristics of homeless people, and the policies and interventions that have been successful in reducing homelessness. It discusses two popular views of what homelessness is like and what should be done about it. One view emphasizes that the elimination of personal problems that afflict many homeless people can reduce homelessness. The other view emphasizes that homelessness can be ended by placing everyone who becomes homeless in his or her own apartment (housing first policy). However, understanding and alleviating homelessness requires a more sophisticated view of the interaction among personal problems, market conditions, and incentives. The vast middle ground between policies requires programs that make difficult trade-offs, and good data would be helpful for making these trade-offs.

Keywords: homelessness; homeless people; personal problems; housing first policy; alleviating homelessness

Article.  6244 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics

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