Understanding Homelessness and Its Causes



The Four Root Causes of Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless identifies four main causes of homelessness:

  • Poverty
    Most often low-income single mothers with children, are most at risk of becoming homeless because financially they have limited access to savings, assets and credit. Any crisis, such as an illness, domestic violence,or loss of a job, will create a situation where they are forced to choose between paying rent or caring for their family.
  • Eroding work opportunities
    The declining real value of wages puts housing out of reach for many. In our area, a person working full time at minimum wage cannot afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at market rents and the lack of appropriate education limits a parents ability to find a living wage job. Furthermore, a family’s need for childcare and dependable transportation adds more barriers to maintaining a job or obtaining higher education to qualify for a higher paying job.
  • Decline in public assistance
    The lack of housing subsidies, particularly the ongoing freeze on Section 8 certificates, as well as many years of minimal support of housing budgets, have left low-income families with fewer options. Reductions in funding for education and training have also meant fewer options to increase earning power.
  • Shortage of affordable housing
    The widening gap between the demand for affordable housing units and the supply of affordable housing has created a housing crisis. The shortage of affordable housing has resulted in rents that absorb a disproportionately high share of income, leaving many only an illness, accident or paycheck away from becoming homeless.

At CAHNS.org, we believe that the way to help the homeless is to not only provide a place to stay—but to also address those four root causes of homelessness.


At the time the Inn Between and Inn Transition were opened in 1983, the people of MA believed that this “business” would be temporary; that family homeless would be a short-lived crisis and surely would not persist.

However, precisely the opposite has happened. In fact, we found that even through the 1990’s, a period of sustained economic growth, families facing hardship were not always able to “get ahead.”

Because of the persistence of family homelessness, we now understand the imperative we face to sustain the Inn Between, Inn Transition, and affordable housing programs  so they may continue to help our most vulnerable citizens and, in particular, their children. Why do so many families find it so difficult to break the cycle of homelessness?

The following explores some of the factors influencing family homelessness in MA’s communities.

  • Massachusetts has a housing wage of $24.08 – 282% above minimum wage ($8.50). A “housing wage” is the minimum hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The national average is $18.62.
  • Over the past year, the Commonwealth’s family shelters have been full to capacity. In 2014, more than 4500 families, including 1900+ living in motels across the state, were in the state’s shelter system. This number does not reflect those using alternative means of survival, such as doubling up with relative or friends, privately funded shelters, and even sleeping in cars.
  • Statewide, families have remained in shelter an average of six to twelve months due to the inability to secure safe, affordable, permanent housing
  • A freeze on Section 8 housing vouchers (in which a landlord is reimbursed by HUD for a percentage of rent) prevents families from having access to rental assistance. However, families who do manage to obtain vouchers, are still out of the running because the rental market has such a low vacancy rate that it is driving the market-rate rents sky high and out of their reach
  • The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in our area is 1200-1400 a month. An extraordinarily high number of low income families must pay over 50% of their income to rent. This leads to circumstances in which families are overcome by living expenses, getting deeper and deeper in debt, either forcing them into homelessness, or making it unattainable to get out of it
  • To cross the threshold of an apartment, working poor families must acquire first and last month’s rent and usually a security deposit. Living paycheck-to-paycheck makes saving over $4,000 an unattainable task


With a unique continuum of care and two decades of experience, we need to keep working with families on whom others have given up.

A blend of nurture, professional case management, programs/services, empathy, and even a little “tough love” make ours a program respected by our peers and business partners, beloved by those we have served.