Homelessness is a devastating experience for children and their families. The increase in homeless families over the past few years has meant a dramatic rise in the number of children who are living in shelters, campgrounds and motels (Buchner, Bassuk, Weinreb, et al., 1999:246). The upheaval these children experience means much more than not having a home; the displacement strains virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children's education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members (Buchner, et al., 1999:246).
Homelessness has been referred to as a lack of customary and regular access to a conventional dwelling. Rossi (1987:1346). It became a conspicuous exigent social concern in Canada and the United States during the 1970s and 1980s due to the impetuously large number of homeless individuals and families manifesting in public and in social work intercession programs (First, Rife, & Toomey, 1995:1331).
By the mid-1980s to early 1990s, the perceptibly homeless had become a familiar sight even within those countries with substantial social preventive programs, such as Canada (First, et al., 1995:1331). The concept of "homeless" has differing connotations in various cultural contexts. In India, they use the term "roofless"; the Japanese refer to the "furosha" which means "floating peoples"; and Columbians use the name "gamino", which means "street child" (Panter-Brick, 2003:150). Varying interpretations of a home confound the difficulty in formalizing the definition of homelessness cross-culturally. For example, an individual residing in a single-room house erected from mud, twigs, and branches in a settlement of Nairobi, Kenya (Mugivane, 1993:132) would be categorized as homeless, or minimally, this type of housing would be viewed as negligible in a significant portion of the industrialized world.
The effects of homelessness on the lives and families cannot be overstated.