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While no doubt there have always been people who lived outside of regular abodes, as defined by a customary four-walled home or dwelling, it took the development of Western notions of civilization, modernity, and capitalism for homelessness, along with associated terms such as vagrancy, transience, and vagabondage, to be defined as a social problem. Scholars note that in medieval times, there was little stigma to begging or living on the streets, and social groups such as students and religious travelers were frequently associated with street living. The rise of modernity stigmatized those who lacked homes and linked those who had no “regular settlement” with being “savages,” such as those encountered in the forests of the New World.

While the history of homelessness is long and complex, ...

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