This paper reviews the literature on understanding homelessness. It criticizes approaches that ignore, distort or diminish the humanity of homeless people, or else, add little to our understanding of that humanity. In particular, it rejects what it calls “epidemiological” approaches, which deny the possibility of agency for homeless people, insofar as those approaches view the situation of those people largely as a “social fact”, to be explained in terms of causal variables or “risk factors” of different kinds. It evaluates the concept of homelessness pathways as a way of making sense of research findings on homelessness. It takes issue with realist approaches, insofar as these approaches purport to identify “underlying” mechanisms that “cause” homelessness, and discusses ethnographic approaches focused on “homeless culture”. Throughout, the paper emphasizes the need to understand homelessness as multidimensional and storied, and concludes with a plea for more research that looks at the whole life of a homeless person, rather than just at selected episodes of rooflessness
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