University of Tasmania
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Strengths, hopes and exiting homelessness : Is housing enough? A qualitative exploration of women's experiences

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posted on 2024-05-14, 03:58 authored by Phipps, ML

Background : Women's homelessness is an increasingly prevalent issue in Australia that has a wide range of social and public health implications. While many aspects of homelessness are unique to women, their experiences are difficult to locate in research literature. The gap makes it challenging to use the existing evidence base to inform policy and practice for women-centred support services, including adaptations to current housing interventions. This study responds by describing women's experiences of becoming, being, and exiting homelessness in Sydney, Australia. It examined the interplay between individual, social, and environmental conditions while homeless and investigated the way women responded and adapted to those conditions to exit homelessness and adapt to being housed. Method : A qualitative interpretative research design was used to engage naturalistic inquiry to investigate women's subjective accounts of their homeless experiences. Participants were active agents who were experts in their own lives. Auto-driven photo-elicitation was used to centralise the importance of each woman's unique socially constructed experience, reduce the risk of retraumatisation, and empower their voice in the research process. Data collection involved participants taking photographs to create images that resonated with their experiences of various stages of homelessness. The photographs were used to guide one-on-one, face-to-face, in-depth interviews wherein participants were given choice and control over the content of the interviews and the information they shared. Data analysis involved coding, categorising, and theming to identify themes and meaning within the data. To depart from the traditional deficit-focused view of homelessness, the analytical theory of self-determination was adopted in this study. With its central tenants of autonomy, competence, and relatedness as essential for wellbeing and growth, self-determination theory was aligned with a strengths-based lens. Findings : Eleven cisgender women who had experienced homelessness participated in the study. All participants experienced adverse and traumatic events that made them vulnerable to homelessness. Pathways into homelessness were varied with experiences such as domestic violence and mental and physical illness leading directly to homelessness. Participants indicated that becoming and being homeless were both traumatic. At the same time, they showed personal strength and resilience as they moved through and out of homelessness. Key themes that emerged as participants worked to exit homelessness were finding hope, building supports, building connection, and taking control. In these ways, they were able to take control of their situations and exit homelessness despite having to navigate complex, disconnected, and difficult housing and social services systems. The women described a journey of personal recovery where finding a house was just the beginning as they worked to rebuild their lives. After finding the right house, women had to develop a sense of safety and security, connection, and self-confidence to feel as though they had truly exited homelessness. There was a need for ongoing support beyond being housed, which conflicted with service end goals of finding housing. Conclusions : Study participants were resilient, competent, autonomous, and capable of acting with agency to move through and out of homelessness. This research presents new insights into the way that services can support and assist women who are at risk of or who are experiencing homelessness in ways that were absent from participants' descriptions of their interactions with current services. Engagements with services were largely felt to be stigmatising and disempowering and experienced as expert-led and non-person centred, and that failed to account for social or individual factors, trauma histories or gender-based issues. These experiences created further trauma for people who were already traumatised by their situation and past events. This research makes apparent the need for trauma-informed, strengths-based services. This research also highlights the need for ongoing support beyond finding a house to assist women in their personal recovery from homelessness. Implications : Service improvements are needed at individual, interpersonal, organisational, and public-policy levels to support the competence, autonomy, and relatedness that women in this study exhibited. These changes must be based on an understanding of the prevalence and impact of trauma on the lives of women experiencing homelessness. To ensure that services are delivered in a way that is compassionate, strengths-based, and person-centred and to reduce the risk of further retraumatisation, these changes must incorporate this understanding at every level of policy, practice, staff development, and implementation. Additionally, services that extend beyond the provision of housing are essential to support recovery. Suggestions for further research are made including larger sample sizes, wider geographic locations, and the potential fit of self-determination theory for other homeless populations.



School of Health Sciences

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