The Stigma of Homelessness: The Impact of the Label 'Homeless' on Attitudes Toward Poor Persons

Poor people have long been stigmatized and blamed for their situation. According to theory about stigma and about inequality-legitimating ideologies, homeless people should be stigmatized even more severely than the generic poor. Recent research suggests that the opposite may be true, but the data used in comparing attitudes toward homeless and other poor people have not been strictly comparable. Thus the conclusions that can be drawn are limited. Using a vignette experiment designed to directly compare attitudes toward a homeless and a domiciled poor man and to compare the effects of being labeled homeless with those of being labeled mentally ill, we find that (1) the homeless man is blamed no less than the domiciled man and generally is stigmatized more severely; (2) the strength of the stigma attached to the homelessness label equals that for mental hospitalization; and (3) the stigmas of homelessness and mental hospitalization are independent of one another. Thus, in addition to the hardships of the homeless condition itself, homeless people suffer stigmatization by their fellow citizens. The results also suggest that the robust tendency to blame the disadvantaged for their predicament holds true for modern homelessness as well. (Authors)

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Social Psychology Quarterly