Applying context theory : the narrative of homelessness and law


Ryan Peterson


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




This work presents a dynamic, comprehensive study of the intersectionality between homelessness and law through the application of the Context Theory of Law. Previous work on this topic points to a specific problem: the data available cannot be relied upon because the numbers are not static, the population of unhoused people is transient, and the ability to gather information on unhoused persons is exceedingly limited. Context Theory, as developed and applied in this work, provides a theoretical framework to engage with unhoused people. This work argues that the failings of the existing legal framework cannot be effectively addressed without first earning the trust of those who are homeless and endeavoring to hear the ‘homeless’ side of the homeless ‘problem’. This critique is particularly pointed regarding academia’s adoption of a narrative of homelessness and law as portrayed by legal scholars rather than homeless individuals. The existing scholarship addresses the points at which the law acknowledges the intersectionality between homelessness and the legal system but fails to consider the points at which those who eventually become homeless establish a relationship with the law. This disconnect prevents researchers and legislators from predicting and understanding the circumstances that contribute to homelessness. For these reasons, the Context approach is qualitative, integrating in-person interviews and field research with available data to present a more prescient analysis of issues than can be gleaned from statistic-dependent structures. By extending beyond the bounds of quantitative analysis, this work contributes context to a pervasive and persistent problem within the legal academy and broader society. Beyond the academic results, the narratives collected provide an opportunity for the legal community to empathize with the homeless population. Without the adoption of empathy, the research suggests the legal community will continue to stammer vapid soliloquies in lieu of offering tangible solutions to homelessness; the result of such empty platitudes will continue to be the waste of billions of dollars every year on policies and procedures that amount to throwing a box of matches at a frozen corpse.

Date Available






Law, Peter A. Allard School of