Digging Deeper – Attitudes Towards the Homeless

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections | 2 comments

Surprising and not so surprising results…

Invisible People, the website dedicated to increasing the visibility of homeless people and the issues they face, commissioned an extensive study. Here I present some results that either may surprise you… or confirm what you have suspected.

Humane solutions have widespread support

When it comes to homelessness policy, mental health and outreach services are the most popular and face the least opposition, consistent with the public’s focus on mental health and addiction as causes of homelessness. The vast majority of the public is also in favor of a number of pro-housing measures, ranging from permanent supportive housing to public housing to rental assistance aimed at reducing the pipeline into homelessness.

Enforcement-driven solutions are controversial

Solutions that focus on enforcement through civil commitment or policing were the least popular and most controversial policies tested. Harsher criminal laws aimed at policing homeless people were the only policy that generated more opposition than support, with nearly half of respondents opposed to criminalization measures. Involuntary commitment, the most popular of these options, still has significantly less support than any policy promoting housing, shelter, or services.

What drives negative sentiment about homelessness?

Negative sentiment about homelessness is correlated with several factors. When it comes to government action on homelessness, people’s political leanings are a major determinant of their attitudes. Gender also contributes, with men offering more punitive views towards homeless people. Perceived causes of homelessness and the size of the local unsheltered population can also drive negative sentiment. Finally, those who hold “not in my backyard” views see homeless people and homelessness projects in a more negative light.

Political leanings inform views on homelessness

Unsurprisingly, conservatives are less enthusiastic about government action on homelessness, though a narrow majority still support government stepping in to help. Those on the left are more lenient towards homeless people using public spaces, feel more guilt when they see homelessness, and are more likely to support homelessness solutions in their own communities.

Women are less punitive and more optimistic

Women are more supportive of government action in general, but also expressed feelings of fear and powerlessness. Men are much more supportive of punitive policies focused on criminalization and policing. While there are disagreements, over three-quarters of both groups support permanent supportive housing.


  1. Kieran Harrington

    Fr Carroll I will tell you why the homeless are out in the streets. I don’t remember the exact year but after scandal at Willabrook Hospital in S.I NY things changed. This led to a case where a woman was held in Creedmore Hospital wanted to be let out. Woman was extremely mentally ill. The ACLU defended the woman because she was held against her will. The poor woman was released in the late summer. She died the following winter in the street.

  2. Aidan Rooney

    “The homeless population is heterogeneous. While there is considerable controversy about the number of homeless people, there is general agreement that the number is becoming greater as each year passes. As the number increases, so do the complexities of the homelessness problem.”