The research on legal and justice issues focuses on factors that may contribute to homelessness, including criminal victimization (physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, women and seniors), discrimination (based on race, class, sexual orientation, and gender, for instance), poverty, justice system involvement, and/or criminal or delinquent behaviour (illegal substance use, involvement in crime). Research also explores how experiences of homelessness produce a range of legal and justice issues.
People who become homeless are more likely to be victims of crime and discrimination, may become involved in illegal or quasi-legal activities for survival reasons, and have a much greater likelihood of being involved in the justice system. A dominant response to the homelessness crisis has been to criminalize the behaviours and activities of people who become homeless but legal and justice issues that impact people experiencing housing instability and homelessness can also be non-criminal in nature.
Poverty and homelessness has potentially catastrophic effects on civil liberties, including the right to vote, the right to secure government benefits or essential services, the right to security of the person, and the right to participate in the democratic life of the community. As well, homelessness is directly linked to the criminal justice system – many discharged inmates end up homeless and, conversely, many homeless people wind up in prison.
Non-criminal legal problems that impact civil liberties include: claims for government benefits such as social assistance or disability benefits; housing and homelessness issues such as evictions, tenant/landlord disputes, and housing discrimination; family law, including divorces, child custody, and domestic violence; consumer issues; employee rights; elder law, such as rights of nursing home residents; mental health and disability issues, especially where benefits are denied; immigration law; and, any other non-criminal legal problems. Service providers and outreach teams often work with individuals, that are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, in an attempt to mediate these difficult challenges.