The Experience of Being Homeless: A Phenomenological Study of Homeless Mothers

Dissertation, Adelphi University, the Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies (1990)

The purpose of this study was to better understand the experience of being homeless. The meaning of home, of being without a home, and the experience of being homeless was explored using a phenomenological methodology. Little is now known about how homeless mothers view their situation. ;The primary data source was a dialogue, often using semi-structured questions, between the researcher and fifteen homeless mothers residing at three emergency shelters. The shelters were small, privately operated and publicly financed shelters located in suburban areas of Long Island. The study excluded homeless mothers who had a history or evidence of mental illness and substance abuse. Detailed fieldnotes of participant observations, including the comments of the participants, were written at the sites. Data collection took place from February to July 1989. Data analysis relied primarily on the steps of the philosophical analysis. ;Three broad themes emerged from the data. The first theme related having a home, and being without a home, to the mothers' struggle to maintain boundaries and connections. The second theme explicated being homeless as the cumulative deprivation of ways of being at-home, i.e., physically, socially, psychologically, and symbolically. It is an experience of multiple threats to human dignity. The third theme is labeled movement, a dynamic aspect of the definition of home and homelessness. ;The study suggests that the participants were without housing because they lacked an adequate income and enough social network support to prevent homelessness. It also suggests that current social policies are ineffective and in some cases, harmful. The participants in this study were symbolically homeless because they lived in diverse cultural settings in which they had to accept the symbols and practices of others. Limbo is given as a metaphor of their experience of being in a shelter and homelessness is described as a whirlpool of poverty and powerlessness. Implications for nursing include a discussion of the limitations of the human capacity to adapt and the importance of evaluating social policies
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