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Perceptions of and reactions to the homeless: A survey of fourth-grade, high school, and college students in a small Midwestern community


A total of 459 fourth-graders, high school students, and undergraduates completed a Homelessness Questionnaire developed for use in this study. Although participants generally expressed positive and supportive attitudes toward the homeless, attributing homelessness to either social maladjustment (e.g., drug problem) or negative characteristics (e.g., laziness) within the homeless was positively associated with “fear of and anger toward the homeless” for all groups of participants. In addition, perceptions of and reactions to the homeless were influenced by both the participants’ gender and age group. Although high school and college students’ interest in helping the homeless was associated with various attitudes and reactions (e.g., feelings of sympathylsupport), their indication that they had ever helped homeless people (either directly or indirectly) was consistently associated only with the acknowledgement that their mother and father had ever helped homeless people (either directly or indirectly). Among these older participants, homelessness in the United States was rated as a more serious problem at the end of the questionnaire than at the beginning.

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Correspondence to Mark A. Barnett.

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Barnett, M.A., Quackenbush, S.W. & Pierce, L.K. Perceptions of and reactions to the homeless: A survey of fourth-grade, high school, and college students in a small Midwestern community. J Soc Distress Homeless 6, 283–302 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02938597

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Key Words

  • homeless
  • attitudes
  • perceptions
  • cross-sectional