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Homelessness is a condition in which a person does not have a permanent place of residence. This is distinguished from nomadic cultures where that condition is considered normal.

There are a number of causes of homelessness. In areas with high unemployment many may not be able to find jobs, and thus pay for a permanent residence. In other areas many homeless may be employed, but paid such a low wage that they cannot afford decent accommodation. Some studies suggest rent control and other housing regulations create homelessness by reducing the supply of housing. Social changes, such as the movement to recognize the rights of those considered mentally ill, could lead to increased homelessness, as such people can no longer be arbitrarily rounded up and committed to mental hospitals.

Homelessness can often produce a vicious circle. With no phone number, permanent address, or place to get changed and washed it can be very hard for the homeless to find jobs.

A number of homeless, but in most countries the minority, suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness that makes finding a job difficult.

While many homeless do have paying jobs others have to find other methods to make money. Begging or panhandling is a method but is illegal in many areas and brings in little money. More lucrative is busking by performing tricks, playing music, drawing on the sidewalk, or some other form of entertainment.

Homeless shelters operated by government, churches, or charities work to provide temporary housing to the homeless. Subsidized housing is a more expensive, but a better long term, solution that can help end the vicious cycle. Some shelters also provide food, others must turn to food banks and soup kitchens for nutrition.

World Statistics

The following statistics indicate the approximate average number of homeless people at any one time. Each country has a different approach to counting homeless people, so comparisons should be made with caution.

European Union: 3,000,000 (Unicef 1998)
United States: 750,000 (Unicef 1998)
Canada: 200,000 (CBC News December 1998)
Australia: 21,000 (Unicef 1998)
United Kingdom: crisis.org.uk estimates 400,000 without a permanent home, of which about 600 sleep on the streets (2001)

The number of homeless people worldwide has grown steadily in recent years. In some Third World nations such as Brazil, India, and South Africa, homelessness is rampant, with millions of children living and working on the streets. See also Child#Street child.

See also