Media and Professional Interest in Homelessness over 30 Years (1974–2003)


  • The authors wish to thank Faye Atkins, Joseph J. Jaeger, Jason M. Kozlawski, Nicole M. Ouellette, Jan M. Slater, and Barbara A. Stanislawski, who assisted with this research.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Paul A. Toro at the Research Group on Homelessness and Poverty, Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, 71 W. Warren Ave., Detroit, MI 48202 [e-mail:].


Media and professional interest in homelessness represent important sources of data that may be useful in understanding broader societal factors influencing this pressing social issue. The present study examined the volume and content of coverage of homelessness in four major newspapers and the professional literature indexed in PsycINFO over the past 30 years. Media coverage showed a steep increase during the mid-1980s, a steady decline throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s, and a plateau since the mid-1990s. Professional coverage demonstrated a less pronounced and delayed pattern of growth, with no sign of decline during the past decade. Content analysis of 574 newspaper articles revealed a sympathetic focus on deinstitutionalization and other structural causes of homelessness during the period of increasing coverage in the mid-1980s, as well as positive media coverage in terms of an emphasis on critical programs and services during more recent years. Content analysis of 324 professional journal articles showed that deficits and deviant characteristics of homeless people were discussed to a significantly greater extent than the structural causes of homelessness over the entire 30-year time period. Possible interactions among media coverage, professional interest, public opinion, the prevalence of homelessness, and policy initiatives are discussed.