The influence of experience on the perception of homelessness in individuals

(1) Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, California, (2) No school or institution affiliation
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Economic disruptions and housing instabilities have for long propelled a homelessness epidemic among adults and youth in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this phenomenon with a 2.2% increase in the number of homeless individuals and more than 70% of Americans fearing this outcome for themselves. This study aimed to analyze the perception of homelessness in two groups: Those who have previously experienced and overcome homelessness and those who are at-risk for experiencing the same. We hypothesized that people at risk perceived homelessness as a negative event, mainly driven by feelings of fear and uncertainty for their future, while those who had overcome the same perceived it as a humbling life lesson and an opportunity for growth. The study analyzed publicly available Reddit posts by people in both groups and found that at-risk individuals tended to associate primarily fearful emotions with the event, and those who had overcome homelessness tended to view the event in a negative context. These results may encourage the establishment of resources to support the currently homeless and help them transition into society, and services to help them cope with negative emotions, as negative attitudes have been shown to decrease life expectancy. We hope these results also inform the establishment of services for at-risk individuals and help mitigate ambivalence they might experience regarding their future.

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