Jul 10, 2024

Understanding the causes of homelessness

Homelessness is a complex issue, with each Vision House family having a different story to tell. The causes of homelessness form complex layers that can compound the crisis and trap families in cycles of poverty, including:

  • unemployment
  • low wages
  • lack of affordable housing
  • mental illness
  • domestic violence

The number of Washingtonians who are unsheltered, living in vehicles or temporary shelter grew by 10% from 2020 to 2022. Within King County, approximately 40,000 individuals are experiencing homelessness, with over 8,000 families being unsheltered.


Unemployment and homelessness are inextricably linked. Long-term unhoused individuals find it almost impossible to become employed due to the lack of a stable address and living conditions. Many heads of families have managed to keep their jobs while experiencing homelessness, but have not been able to save up enough for first- and last-month rent payments, or overcome poor or nonexistent rental history. And job loss can quickly deplete a family’s savings, forcing them to give up stable housing, move in with family or friends, live out of their vehicles, or seek temporary shelter with organizations like Vision House. The US Census Bureau reported that “Among the sheltered population age 16 and over experiencing homelessness, nearly 15% were unemployed and an additional 61% were not in the labor force.” 

Affordable Housing

As housing costs soar in urban centers such as King County, lower-income people are priced out of the market. Payscale reported that Seattle’s housing costs are 111% higher than the national average. Even with Washington state increasing the minimum wage every year on January 1, the 2024 rate of $19.97 per hour would still require an individual to work 72-90 hours per week just to afford rent and basic utilities.


Additionally, medical events and disability can swiftly catapult families into homelessness. The 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report stated “Roughly one in every three individuals experiencing homelessness had experienced a chronic pattern of homelessness (31%), meaning that they have experienced homelessness for extended periods of time and have a disability (as defined by HUD)”. A chronic illness, expensive medical procedures, or any illness that prevents a head of household from working could put a family into debt and homelessness.

Substance Abuse

According to American Addiction Center, “a 2014 report from the United States Conference of Mayors indicates that substance abuse was one of the top three causes of homelessness in single people as well as families.” Substance abuse can certainly be a cause of homelessness, but it can also develop as a coping mechanism due to the stresses of homelessness.

Domestic Violence

At Vision House, we support survivors of domestic violence, and we know there are more families who could use our support. The American Bar Association reported on studies that showed “38 percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lifetime. In addition, more than 90 percent of women experiencing homelessness have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.” Women fleeing abusers do not always have a safety net in place: a safe place to stay, protection from their abuser, or the financial means to keep their children together and out of harm’s way.

The impact of homelessness on children cannot be overstated. Without a stable home environment and often experiencing food insecurity, children are more likely to experience developmental delays, struggle academically, and face chronic health issues. By age five, most homeless children have at least one major developmental delay with language skills, hand-eye coordination, and emotional and/or behavioral development.

While these factors shed light on several causes of homelessness, it is essential to recognize that every Vision House family has their own story and needs a holistic support system. Through a combination of housing assistance, job training, mental health support, and community outreach, Vision House offers a lifeline to those in need, helping them rebuild their lives and secure a brighter future for themselves and their families. Learn more about our process here.

By supporting Vision House, you provide opportunities for families to overcome trauma, generational poverty, and situational homelessness. Please consider making a gift today.