This essay
will be bearing in mind homelessness in Australia as a social problem from the
sociological perspective of a functionalist. To understand and look at
homelessness from a functionalist’s perspective some understandings should be
met. To begin with, what constitutes a social problem; secondly, how
homelessness is interpreted and seen in Australia, thirdly, how the
functionalist’s perspective is suitable by applying it in explaining
homelessness as a social problem.


What is a social problem? A social problem is any condition or
behavior that has negative consequences for large numbers of people, and it is
recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed (What is a
social problem? 2011).  To be capable
to recognize/ remember what is and what is not a social problem in a society,
you must understand the social structure and the culture of the society. Within
every society the structure and culture are different, and yes there are
comparisons. However, no two societies are exact. Social problems cite to a
distinct society at a definite time due to the structure and culture of society
varying as time accede, and each society is diverse in their societal norms,
values, and morals. So, what may be a social problem in Korea, for example, may
not affect or be a problem in Australia. The era does not merely have an
influence on what does and does not make up a social problem, but geographic
location, in addition, plays a function in what is and is not the norm or socially
acceptable within a society/ for example, in Iraq and middle eastern countries
society it is the norm to wear a Burqa, while that is not the norm in
Australia. Homelessness is an example of a social problem within the Australian

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Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) provided the definition currently
accepted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is used in its studies
and research. The definition by Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) is
historically and culturally derived from the meaning home. A person living in a
substandard or borderline substandard setup 
for the societal norms is living with no sense of security in the length
of their tenure in one room without a bathroom and kitchen of their own, or is
moving between various temporary spaces, e.g., hostels, friends, houses or is
without living arrangements that are ‘normal’ for the society ( e.g., street
living, under a bridge is termed homeless. In Australia, the norm is living in
self-contained units or suburban houses 
(Chamberlain and “Mackenzie, 1992). Using this definite ion, the
ABS completed its most recent census 2011. The ABS 2011 recorded 105,237 people
Australia wide as homeless which equates to a rate of 49 per 10,000; this
demonstrates an 8% increase since 2006 (45 per 10,000 which suggests that the
problem is growing. Homelessness presents a number of implications which make
it harmful to the individual and society; one significant effect for the
individual is their increased susceptibility to chronically ill health whilst
one significant social implication is that over $27,000per annum is spent on
those ‘rough sleeping’ by the community (Homelessness Australia, 2013) The most
prevalent causes are domestic violence (25%) and financial difficulties (15%)
(Homelessness Australia, 2013). The Australian Government, by carrying out
censuses on population and housing, demonstrates that homelessness is perceived
to be a social problem and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
housing, and homelessness webpage states that homelessness is a ‘pressing
issue’; a targeted initiative by COAG was to create over 600 new dwellings for
the homeless between 2009 and 2013 (COAG, nd). These factors clearly
demonstrate that homelessness is perceived as a social problem in Australia as is
affects a significant segment of society negatively; has been recognized as a
social problem by the Australian government, and; the Australian is seeking
viable solutions.


Functionalism is one of the three
fundamental sociological theories of thought, also known as the functionalist
perspective and the structural functionalism and works by consensus and
cohesion within society. This theory will be applied to homelessness throughout
this essay. Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parson and Robert Merton
are the works of this school of thought. Mooney, Knox and Schacht (2015)
explain that this theory contributes a macro (big picture) view of society
which is recognised as a system constructed on interrelated, co-dependent
systems (referred to as institutions) that impact one another and, in turn, are
influenced to preserve a steady social equilibrium based in consensus within a
society. These institutions are similar to puzzle pieces that fit together to
form a bigger picture which, in this case, is society. It is regularly
correlated as any society is just like the human body. The key institutional
structures of society work like the body’s organs to keep society healthy and
well (Watts, 2007). Some sectors that firmly alter and add to this social equilibrium
are known as functional elements, although others that negatively affect and
disturb the balance are known as dysfunctional elements; some of these elements
can be both functional and dysfunctional. An example of how an element is both
functional and dysfunctional is a crime. It is dysfunctional because criminal
behavior is conflicting to socially accepted behaviors but is functional due to
its reinforcement of societal norms, values, and morals which increases social
cohesion and consensus. The function can be subdivided more into manifest and
latent functions to obtain an education with one of its latent functions being
to learn socially acceptable behaviors. There are two major models used to
apply functionalism to social problems; the social disorganization model and
the social pathology model. When rapid social changes occur, social norms are
weak and unclear, and as a result, there is a state of normalizes (anomie) as
society alters and restructures itself based on the rearranged norms (Theoretical
Perspectives in Sociology,2012). The latter, conceptualized by Auguste Comte in
the late 19th century, sees society as analogous to the human body with social
problems occurring as a result of illness’ in one or more of the systems due to
an institutional break- down( Levine, 1995). In addition to these models, there
is an extension of the social pathology model involving a person being
inadequately socialized, thus unable to contribute to the functioning of the
institutions to which they are related.   


Homelessness as a social problem will be explained by using the social
pathology model. Homelessness Australia (2013) studied 25% of homelessness are
caused by domestic abuse and is the highest cause. Hence this is the sample
that will be used to demonstrate that dysfunction in one or more institutions
causes homelessness for some. Domestic abuse is an indication of a
dysfunctional family institution which means the roles of the family members
are not being fulfilled, for instance, females have an important role of
caregivers where males have the role of defender/ guardian in the family
institution. Due to a family member not doing their part within the
institution, the institution falls apart and becomes dysfunctional and will
probably experience a breakdown. This break down leads to the abused party living in a risky arrangement
that is like-minded with Chamberlain and Mackenzie’s (1992) definition of
homelessness under the sections that there is no promise  of how long the abused party can stay and that
they may be living in temporary accommodations in the worst case  scenario wherein the abuser has alienated the
abused party from their support networks, the abused party may live on the
streets or enter an emergency shelter. The domestic abuse is an indication of
dysfunctions in the educational institutions within the manifest function of
educating children and the latent function of children learning how to interact
in a socially acceptable manner.This can be associated to governmental
dysfunction, in poor policymaking concerning what is comprised in the national
education values and curricula, and the following disappointment of the
educational institution to apply curricula that acts as a solid guiding hand
for the students under that curriculum. All of this can also link to
insufficient socialization throughout the childhood years,  with a dysfunctional family institution which
the child sees as ‘typical’ that helps and leads the child to behave in a socially
unacceptable manner while in the education institution, resulting in social
isolation and exclusion. As an outcome of this barring, the child will not
gather and learn how to function as a productive member of society when their
tenancy in the education institution has ended. They won’t be able to get or
keep a job which leads them into a state of homelessness due to their
incapability to make money thus causing them to rely on short-term places or live in the circumstances
counter to Australian societal housing norms, such as taking up residence under
a bridge or in an abandoned building.

As shown, a social problem disturbs a specific
society at a particular time and must be seen as a problem that troubles a
significant amount of the population that needs to be fixed. These standards
are encountered by homelessness in Australia in its rate of 49 per 10,000
living in a state of homelessness which is described using the culturally and
historically built meaning of the word ‘home’ by Chamberlain and Mckay (1992),
The government has accepted homelessness as a social problem, proven by their application
of initiatives to ease the circumstance and the ABS censuses and research into
it. It can furthermore be seen precisely through the functionalist’s social
pathology model as being caused by dysfunctions within one or more institution
and insufficient socialization.


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