Is Being Homeless A Choice?

The debate about the causes of homelessness in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States, includes a contention by some people that part of the homeless population is on the streets by choice. There are some key facts that need to be considered when it comes to analyzing whether being homeless is a choice, at least for some people.

Academic Research on Homelessness as a Choice

In 2012, the academic journal Housing, Theory and Society published a research analysis entitled “Homelessness as a Choice.” At the heart of the research, and associated article, was the conclusion that there are individuals who are homeless by choice. The most important conclusion of the research and article was that ascertaining why some individuals elect to be homeless is highly complicated.

Ascertaining how and why a person choses to be homeless requires a close examination of an individual’s thought process. This includes a consideration of whether or not an individual’s thought process was somehow impaired or impacted because of a mental health condition or disease.

Mental Health and Homelessness

There is a considerable percentage of homeless people who are afflicted with some type of mental illness. There is some debate as to whether mental illness results in people becoming homeless or whether homelessness causes a person to descend into some type of mental health issue. In fact, probably both scenarios are at work among the homeless population.

In trying to ascertain how many homeless people are “on the streets” by choice, is important to identify those homeless individuals who labor under some sort of mental health condition or issue. Time and again when mentally ill homeless people are asked if they are content with being without a residence, they routinely indicate that they are satisfied. In other words, these individuals maintain that they are homeless by choice, and satisfied with their “decision.”

Psychologists and other mental health experts maintain that there are some mentally ill people who truly are satisfied with being homeless. Regardless, most people with a mental illness who contend they are happy being homeless make such a response because of their condition. These individuals may be delusional, or have some sort of impairment that makes giving an accurate answer about their assessment of their homeless status virtually or completely impossible.

Resources for Homeless People and Homelessness by Choice

When it comes to the types of benefits available to homeless individuals, some people make the argument that enhanced programming and benefits make a person more inclined to be homeless. These people contend that by expanding resource available to homeless people, more people will be inclined to become homeless in order to take advantage of these offerings.

In some places in the United States, a person is able to take advantage of a decent shelter, obtain at least some meals at no charge, access free clothing, and take advantage of other benefits as a result of being homeless. In addition, when living a life as a homeless person, an individual may conclude that he or she lacks any significant responsibilities.

In larger cities, this is not always the case. The demands on “the system” may limit what is available to a homeless person. For example, homeless shelters very well may be filled to capacity, leaving a guest to be placed in a highly uncomfortable environment.

Breakdown of Homeless Population

In the final analysis, when considering the question of “is being homeless a choice,” there are three classifications of the homeless population to bear in mind:

  • Men and women who are not homeless by choice. This is the largest percentage of the homeless population in Los Angeles and throughout the United States
  • Mentally ill homeless people who contend that they are content with their status and are homeless by choice. These people are laboring under mental health impairment that likely renders it impossible for them to rationally understand their status. In other words, they are not homeless by choice.
  • Men and women who have made a reasoned decision to be homeless. This likely is the smallest cohort of homeless people in Los Angeles and across the United States.


People who are not intentionally homeless, and mentally ill homeless individuals, nearly always require emergency and longer-term assistance to access housing. In situations in which a person is homeless by choice, some thing that the decision to stop being homeless is all that is necessary to move in the direction to obtain housing. In the end, that is easier said that done, if nothing else because of the stigma that can (and likely will) attach to a decision to spend time homeless by choice.