homeless vs unhoused

You may have noticed recent changes in the terminology used when discussing individuals without conventional housing situations. For years, “homeless” has been the standard term to describe those members of the population without traditional housing. However, advocates have recently started to recommend new terms as substitutes for that term. 


It is not that “homeless” is a derogatory or offensive term. But, “homeless” may not always be an apt description of a person’s living situation. On top of that, “homelessness” as a concept has become highly stigmatized in our society. Efforts to change the terminology surrounding this phenomenon are intended to change the way we think about its effects on the population. Rather than replacing offensive terminology, it’s about a narrative shift.


So what exactly is the difference between unhoused vs “homeless?

Homeless vs Unhoused: Semantic Understanding


Advocates raise a few major objections to the term “homeless.” The first of these is that “homeless” is not always seen as an adequate description of the people it’s applied to. Many “homeless” people feel that they do have homes, whether that is a shelter, encampment, tent, or other dwelling. “Home” does not necessarily refer to the physical structure of a house. As such, “homeless” can be misleading while not describing the extent of the challenges faced by these individuals.

This brings us to the second objection raised by advocates. Using the term “homeless” can sometimes obscure the true nature of the difficulties faced by living without traditional shelter. Often, “homelessness” is a product of other social and economic factors. Being without consistent or traditional shelter can also result in health troubles. For instance, it can restrict access to resources like food, clothes, hygiene products, and even work opportunities.


Ultimately, “homeless” is not a bad word to describe members of the population who do not have conventional housing. But the term is often stigmatized. Therefore, using new terminology can reconfigure our collective attitude toward the phenomenon.


“Unhoused” is the most commonly-adopted alternative to “homeless.” One of the primary advantages of this word is that it is more specific and accurate to an individual’s situation. Often, the problem is not that individuals do not have a place to stay. Rather, the problem is that they do not have access to conventional housing and the necessities that come with it.


Another advantage of using this term is that “unhoused” has a much more temporary connotation than “homeless.” “Unhoused” suggests a temporary situation of being without a house. “Homeless,” on the other hand, can often feel like a permanent or definitive descriptor of an individual’s situation.


Using “unhoused” instead of “homeless” is therefore seen as a better reflection of the realities unhoused individuals face. The problem is not that they do not have a place to call home. It is that their housing situation can often be detrimental to their well-being. “Unhoused” also reflects the reality that this detrimental living station is far from permanent, and can be overcome in time.

Other Alternatives: Houseless and Unsheltered

“Unhoused” is not the only new term to enter into the vocabulary in these conversations. You may have also seen or heard people using the phrases “houseless” or “unsheltered” in recent times as well. “Houseless” is virtually synonymous with “unhoused,” and the two can be used interchangeably. Which one you use is more a matter of preference than a semantic distinction.


“Unsheltered” can be confusing because it is a much broader term. An individual can be described as “unsheltered” when they are caught out in a bad storm, for instance. However, “unsheltered” is an effective term for reflecting many of the hardships people without conventional housing face. 


Lack of access to shelter, or inadequate shelter, can be extremely detrimental to anybody’s well-being. However, this term can also be applied to individuals who have been temporarily displaced from their homes. While this can still be a major problem, it can create a sense of ambiguity when using the term “unsheltered.” As such, most people prefer “unhoused” or “houseless” as alternatives to “homeless.”

Critical Resources for Unhoused Individuals

Ultimately, the terminology we use is less important than the actions we take to help those in need. Regardless of what terminology is used, the unhoused population often struggles to access certain critical resources on a regular basis. To help alleviate their struggles, many charities accept donations of essential items like sleeping bags, socks, hygiene products, and sunscreen. 


Wholesale Sock Deals offers a wide variety of products that are often in high demand for charity and non-profit organizations. If you run a non-profit organization or are looking to donate, Wholesale Sock Deals can help.