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Lived Experiences of Homeless Individuals: Factors Leading to Homelessness

Homelessness is a poverty-based problem faced by all nations across the world. In line with international efforts to eradicate poverty, the need to understand and prevent instances of homelessness is growing. In order to prevent the risk of homelessness from occurring in future populations, the factors that lead to this phenomenon should be delineated. Only with a clear understanding of what contributes to the occurrence of homelessness can programs for prevention be established.

Although individual conditions immediately prior to the time of becoming homeless are the most obvious reasons for the incidence of homelessness, much research has been conducted to find out whether there are more influential underlying factors behind these. A majority of the individuals who participated in studies regarding homelessness were found to have had a variety of negative experiences as children The problems to be tackled by this paper will be numerous but will also come from a single unifying theme of whether or not lived childhood experiences may have led to a state of homelessness.

Research Problem The present study aims to understand whether or not lived childhood experiences are a factor in an individual’s becoming homeless. If childhood experiences are found to be a factor in an individual’s homelessness, research will be directed to ascertaining what different childhood experiences have a greater chance of causing an individual to be subject to a state of homelessness. It is hypothesized that childhood experiences will indeed be seen to play a factor in the occurrence of homelessness in an individual.

The underlying mechanisms and the specific childhood experiences that do play a factor will be established only upon completion of the data gathering and data analysis processes of the study. Purposes of the Study The primary purpose of this study is to establish a clear relationship between the two concepts. Research aims will be directed by the following questions: How will homeless individuals remember situations in their family of origin? What specific experiences have a potential to cause a future state of homelessness according to homeless individuals?

What possible reasons are there to cause the individual to be affected in this way by these experiences? What do homeless individuals feel would have helped prevent them from falling into their state of homelessness? The study will also be directed towards validating results of previous research conducted on homelessness and the lived experiences of homeless individuals. Literature Review Homelessness is a widespread issue that requires the attention of the academic community.

Because homelessness is so rampant and because of its visibility as a problem in all societies, research regarding this matter has already been conducted by a number of individuals. This does not mean to say that there is already much literature regarding homelessness, far from it. Literature regarding homelessness is still very limited and there are still many aspects about this research topic that need to be tackled. However, there is enough literature available on which to base the present study. Homelessness has been defined as a state wherein an individual is not capable of securing safe housing for himself/herself.

It is also defined as a state wherein an individual resides in a make-shift shelter for lack of other shelters in which to reside. It can also mean the staying in a temporary sheltering program provided for by social welfare institutions. (Zufferey & Kerr, 2004) The experience of homelessness is not the same for all individuals because those who experience it are different from each other in many ways. Even within a single locality, the homeless individuals may already differ in terms of gender, age, race, and ethnolinguistic characteristics.

Although homelessness is widespread, it is not homologous. (Zufferey & Kerr, 2004) Factors that contribute to homelessness, therefore, are also varied among homeless individuals. A number of researchers have already conducted studies in an effort to establish these factors. Morrel-Belai et al (2000) established, through both quantitative and qualitative means, different macro level and individual level factors that lead to an individual’s homelessness. Qualitative interviews with 29 homeless individuals were analyzed through a team effort.

The results of their study showed that poverty, job loss, loss of social support systems, lack in job opportunities, and lack in decent and safe home environments were macro-level factors that led to individuals becoming and remaining homeless. At a smaller level, individuals became homeless due to feelings of depression. Hope that their situations would get better was lost and this eventually led to the continuation of their status as homeless individuals. Homelessness was also perpetuated when the factors of substance abuse came into play.

A notable finding by the Morrel-Belai et al (2000) study was that childhood experiences contributed to the occurrence and persistence of homelessness. Homeless individuals are also able to remain homeless for so long because they develop coping mechanisms, such as developing groups with other homeless people, accepting their identities as homeless individuals, and community involvement. These coping mechanisms help these homeless individuals adjust to and remain in their situation. (Hill, 2003) Koegel et al (1995) conducted a study on the prospect of childhood experiences as factors in homelessness.

The surveys they had homeless people answer showed that childhood experiences do in fact have a role in causing homelessness. Results of this study showed that the condition of the family of origin contributed to an individual’s eventual state of homelessness. A home environment where a female was the breadwinner, where poverty and abuse were present, where one or both parents were absent, and where dysfunctional relationships between family members was reported tended to produce individuals who would eventually come to experience homelessness.

Anderson & Rayens (2004) also conducted a quantitative study in hopes of establishing the factors influencing homelessness in women. Childhood settings of intimacy, autonomy, social support, reciprocity, and conflict were assessed in the participants through a set of questionnaires. The researchers concluded that intervention programs needed to include the factors of relationship building, support systems, violence prevention, and modeling. Another gender-based study of homelessness was conducted by Lafuerte & Lake (1995).

This study focused on homeless men and interviews with the participants showed that rejection, uncertainty, and social isolation were factors of homelessness in men. Again, researchers encountered the factor of the condition of the familiy of origin when they looked into the aspect of rejection. A study by Miller et al (2004) also tried to provide a clearer view as to how conditions in the family of origin can lead to homelessness. However, it focuses on adolescent homelessness. The present research expounds on the past findings.

A relatively new tract is taken in that only the role of childhood experiences in adult homelessness is studied via a qualitative research design employing the use of face-to-face interviews. This focus allows for a clearer understanding of the different mechanisms of how childhood experiences affected a homeless individual. Methodology Because previous research has shown that homelessness is not a homologous experience for those involved and must therefore have varying factors for each individual, the present study will be based on a qualitative research design.

(Zufferey & Kerr, 2004) This will best accumulate the data required by the study with consideration to the fact of the variability of the topic between subjects. The methods to be applied in the study are an interview and a questionnaire. These are the most efficient qualitative technique for this research problem because the study aims to be able to enumerate different childhood experiences that lead to homelessness and also to understand the mechanisms behind these factors.

A case study would have also been a good qualitative method for the study of homelessness but would not have been too limited for this particular study in terms of scope. Participants The study will utilize the aid of adult homeless individuals. The term homeless individuals will be operationally defined according to two categories. The first as individuals who spent a minimum of one night in a place considered as a temporary shelter or a place that was not initially designed to serve as shelter. And the second as individuals who stayed at least one night in a program for homeless individuals.

(Koegel et al, 1995) Ten males and ten females who became homeless on or after they reached the age of 25 will be randomly chosen to represent each category. Individuals will be pre-tested by an interview that will simply determine whether or not they recall and are able to talk openly about their past experiences. Instruments and Procedure Prior to any of the interviews, participants will be asked to sign a consent form allowing the researchers to use what information can be acquired from the participants via the interviews.

The participants will then be briefed about how the information regarding themselves might be used should it prove useful to the interview. They will be assured absolute confidentiality with regards to the information they share. The participants will be interviewed face-to-face individually by trained and supervised interviewers. Face-to-face interview will have more weight than the questionnaire-based interview because it will allow researchers to immediately give follow-up questions, to ask the participant to expound, and to probe deeper in areas of interest.

But questionnaire-based interviews will also be given. This is to account for the things that the participants might not be able to divulge when asked personally by a real person perhaps due to issues of social desirability and the like. For both types of interview, participants will be asked their demographics, their childhood experiences, their families of origin, and how they think they were affected by these. Recommended follow-up questions will be provided to all face-to-face interviewers and they will be instructed to be as thorough as possible.

These interviews will be recorded and then afterwards transcribed verbatim. Questionnaires will be composed of a series of open-ended questions and will be given to the participants before they are interviewed face-to-face. Data Analysis Analysis of the participants’ answers will be conducted by the same individuals who conducted the interviews. This will ensure that nonverbal cues noted during interview will be taken into consideration. The transcribed interviews will be read and compared with one another for similarities and patterns.

Recurring themes will be noted and listed down. Categories will be developed for similar themes that have been noted. Insights will then be made regarding these answers and presented clearly and scientifically together with the results of the study. (Lafuente & Lane, 1995) Answers that were not similar with any other responses given will also be noted. These might show certain factors that lead to homelessness which are personal and individually experienced. These will be analyzed and discussed thoroughly. Both the noted similarities and differences will be analyzed and discussed.

This will aid in the understanding of what psychological mechanisms take part and cause these particular instances to become factors of homelessness. Consensus between analysts must be considered and only points agreed by all to be valid will be included in the research’s results. It should be noted by all involved that an agreement to a point’s validity may not necessarily be agreement to its correctness. Limitations and Delimitations of the Study Although the need for studies on homelessness is great, literature regarding the matter is relatively low. This limits the present study’s data pool.

There will also be limitations to the methods that can be applied in the study. Childhood experiences of the participants can only be assessed through self-report. Because of this, he results of the study will have low external validity and reliability. Also, because the research will handle past recollections, there will be no or only a few means by which data given by the participants can be verified. Quantitative measures will not be employed in the present study. Qualitative measures will give a better assessment of the variables to be included in the study.

Because the present study aims to enumerate the different childhood experiences that play a factor in homelessness, quantitative measurements are not an option. The results of this research can be used and validated, however, for and by quantitative methods. Due to geographic and time constraints, the participants that will be included in the study will only come from one locality. This is problematic because the aspects of the research may have cultural bearings that will not be reflected by the results. Results might not be valid across cultures.

Future research is encouraged on the same research topic. It should be conducted with a bigger population size and with a wider geographic scope in order to account for the cultural factor. Significance of the Study Homelessness is never a desired situation by any individual or by any society. There is a clear desire for this phenomenon to be eradicated altogether. The results of this paper could be used to further this goal. With establishment of childhood factors that could increase likelihood of homelessness, new programs and plans of action can be built with these newfound agents as foundations.

Intervention can also be implemented for family environments exhibiting the said factors. Conclusive results from this study would also add to the growing literature about homelessness and will expand knowledge both for academician and for social workers. The study may also be used to validate previous research regarding childhood experiences and homelessness. The research will also stimulate further inquiry and investigation into the subject of homelessness.


Anderson, D. , & Rayens, M. K. (2004). Factors influencing homelessness in women.Public Health Nursing, 21(1), 12-23 Ensign, J. (2006). Perspectives and experiences of homeless young people. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 54(6), 647-652, Hill, R. P. (2003) Homelessness in the US: an ethnographic look at consumption strategies. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 13, 128-137 Koegel, P. , Melamid, E. , & Burnam, A. (1995). Childhood risk factors for homelessness among homeless adults. American Journal of Public Health, 85(12), 1642-1649 Lafuente, C. , & Lane, P. (1995) The lived experiences of homeless men.

Journal of Community Health Nursing, 12(4), 211-219 Miller, P. , Donahue, P. , Este, D. , & Hofer, M. (2004). Experiences of being homeless or at risk of being homeless among Canadian youths. Adolescence, 39(156), 736-755 Morrel-Bellai, T. , Goering, P. , & Boydell, K. (2000). Becoming and remaining homeless: a qualitative investigation. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 21, 581-604 Zufferey, C. , & Kerr, L. (2004) Identity and everyday experiences of homelessness: some implications for social work. Australian Social Work, 67(4), 343-353

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