Abstract

Family homelessness is a growing social challenge throughout the developed world. The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of family homelessness in a mid-sized Canadian city and, particularly, the role that gender plays in these experiences with a primary focus on women. This project was a secondary analysis situated within a critical theoretical perspective. The data for this study, consisting of four focus groups, were extracted from a primary study that focused on diversion from family homelessness. Qualitative thematic analysis was utilized with data being managed and themed with the assistance of Nvivo. Four themes were generated: scarcity of resources; relationship breakdown; living with precarious mental health; and a common experience. The first three themes reveal on the gendered nature of women’s pathways into homelessness, where the last theme highlights that during times of extreme crisis and housing loss, all parents undergo very common experiences and challenges related to meeting housing needs and supporting their children. Pathways into homelessness are gendered, and it was noted in this analysis the unique challenges that mothers face in relation to poverty, conflict, and mental health. Therefore, services need to be geared to support the unique needs of women and mothers.
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Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless
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Gender and experiences of family homelessness
Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed, Abe Oudshoorn & Cheryl Forchuk
To cite this article: Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed, Abe Oudshoorn & Cheryl Forchuk (2019):
Gender and experiences of family homelessness, Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless,
DOI: 10.1080/10530789.2019.1679420
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10530789.2019.1679420
Published online: 17 Oct 2019.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH PAPER
Gender and experiences of family homelessness
Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed , Abe Oudshoorn and Cheryl Forchuk
Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Western University, London, Canada
ABSTRACT
Family homelessness is a growing social challenge throughout the developed world. The
purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of family homelessness in a mid-
sized Canadian city and, particularly, the role that gender plays in these experiences with a
primary focus on women. This project was a secondary analysis situated within a critical
theoretical perspective. The data for this study, consisting of four focus groups, were
extracted from a primary study that focused on diversion from family homelessness.
Qualitative thematic analysis was utilized with data being managed and themed with the
assistance of Nvivo. Four themes were generated: scarcity of resources; relationship
breakdown; living with precarious mental health; and a common experience. The rst three
themes reveal on the gendered nature of womens pathways into homelessness, where the
last theme highlights that during times of extreme crisis and housing loss, all parents
undergo very common experiences and challenges related to meeting housing needs and
supporting their children. Pathways into homelessness are gendered, and it was noted in this
analysis the unique challenges that mothers face in relation to poverty, conict, and mental
health. Therefore, services need to be geared to support the unique needs of women and
mothers.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 21 February 2019
Revised 6 October 2019
Accepted 6 October 2019
KEYWORDS
Family; homelessness;
shelter; gender; critical social
theory
Background and signicance
Families are one of the fastest growing demographic
segments of those who experience homelessness
(Segaert, 2017), with family shelters in Canada experi-
encing increased occupancy rates and increased lengths
of stay. The experience of homelessness among families
is distinct from other forms of homelessness due to
issues such as of the size of the family, the presence
of children, common experiences of violence, housing
challenges, extra expenses, and family poverty
(Noble, 2014). Each year, millions of people are
aected by family conicts, abuse, or violence which
lead to relationship breakdown and housing precarity
(Sinha, 2013). According to Gaetz, Dej, Ritcher, and
Redman (2016), in the Canadian context the number
of children experiencing homelessness over a course
of a year is 3540,000. Although families that experi-
ence homelessness composed 4% of the homeless
population, they use 14% of shelter beds (Segaert,
2017), and the average duration they stay in the shelter
is twice as long as individuals who are homeless (Gaetz
et al., 2016).
While both male-led and female-led households
experience homelessness, as well as two-parent house-
holds, more single-parent families experience poverty
(Mather, 2010) and 80% of these are female-led (Cana-
dian Womens Foundation, 2017). Much of the
research on family homelessness provides generic rec-
ommendations for services, support, and policy change
without particular consideration as to how gender
might play a role in the experience of family homeless-
ness. As research on pathways into homelessness
demonstrates the gendered nature of these experiences
(Fries, Fedock, & Kubiak, 2014; Mayock, Sheridan, &
Parker, 2012), consideration needs to be given into
whether the experience of family homelessness is in-
and-of itself a gendered experience.
This study is a secondary analysis of research that
has been conducted in a mid-sized Canadian city
which focused on assessing the factors that put families
at risk of homelessness and soliciting eective methods
to divert families from the shelter (Forchuk, Richard-
son, & Russell, 2018). This particular analysis aims to
explore the experience of family homelessness with a
consideration of gender and a primary focus on
women. The following questions are addressed: (1)
What roles do homeless parents identify related to gen-
der? (2) What are the gender-based experiences of
homeless parents? As the majority of homeless families
are female-led, priority is given to the experiences of
women while also noting any relevant comparison.
Literature review
The role that gender plays in experiences of homeless-
ness has been considered both for those who identify as
female (Chambers et al., 2014; Cummins, First, & Too-
mey, 1998; Maes, 2012), and those who identify as male
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed falmalk2@uwo.ca
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL DISTRESS AND THE HOMELESS
https://doi.org/10.1080/10530789.2019.1679420
(McArthur, Zubrzycki, Rochester, & Thomson, 2006;
Schindler & Coley, 2007). A Toronto study explored
the mental health of 522 homeless women with and
without children (Chambers et al., 2014). Chambers
and colleagues found that poor mental health con-
ditions were common among women who lacked social
support, faced physical or sexual harassment, had
severe health issues, and had gone through the experi-
ence of substance dependence. Mental illness is a com-
mon concern regarding women who are homeless and
in this case women were found to avoid care if they had
children but also used substances. In a U.K. study of
homeless mothers (Tischler, Rademeyer, & Vostanis,
2007), the mental health challenges faced by homeless
mothers are identied. High stress and high rates of
violence lead to high levels of mental health challenges.
Mothers also explained the scarcity of the shelter
resources that they needed to address their need.
Therefore, Tischler et al. (2007) recommend services
to work together to meet this populations diverse
needs.
Browne (1993) highlights that family violence can
be a gender-based pathway into homelessness for
women. Wenzel, Koegel, and Gelberg (2000) highlight
that in terms of gender, homeless women experience
violent incidences more frequently than homeless
men. That is, homeless women have a higher rate of
victimization than homeless men, however, both men
and women who experience homelessness and mental
illness are at high risk of being victims of crimes. A
similar study took a place in Birmingham, U.K. (Vos-
tanis, Tischler, Cumella, & Bellerby, 2001), which com-
pared the prevalence of mental illness in three groups
of homeless families. The authors highlight the signi-
cant relationship between violence and mental illness
experienced by mothers. They conclude that several
services should work in collaboration to meet womens
needs, such as mental health professionals, housing,
and social services.
Klassen (2015) explored dierentiating factors
between women and men experiencing homelessness,
including both how homelessness is experienced and
how it is perceived. For example, hidden homelessness
is a more common form of homelessness for women
than men, and womens reaction to homelessness is
unique. Homeless women may avoid using shelter ser-
vices for many reasons, child safety being identied as
the primary reason. This is a barrier to accessing Hous-
ing First currently in many communities, as shelter can
be the primary source of intake into such programs.
Klodawsky (2006) notes a peculiarity in the perceptions
of single women who are homeless, particularly that
many did not self-identify as homeless in spite of meet-
ing formal criteria for such. This suggests that perhaps
there is room for more gendered nuance in the very
denition of homelessness.Klodawsky (2006)
suggests that in particular women who are mothers
navigate systems dierently and might more proac-
tively prevent their experiences of absolute
homelessness.
In regards to the experiences of men, Schindler and
Coley (2007) explore the parenting experiences of
homeless fathers who became involved with the shelter
system. Nine fathers with dependent children were
interviewed. Findings included that fathers form their
experiences of homelessness through contextual fac-
tors and constructions of masculinity(p. 40). Fathers
in shelters are vulnerable to loss of employment, related
to decreased workplace performance or attendance,
economic uctuations, cultural expectations, and social
support. Homelessness shapes the meaning of father-
hood as fathers frequently struggle with employment
until they lose it, and then their role changes when
they nd that they are no longer able to provide for
their family. Some participants felt worthless because
they could not maintain their role in the family and
felt hopeless in preventing their homelessness.
McArthur et al. (2006) support that homelessness
among fathers is linked to unemployment prior to
and during the time of the crisis, as well as housing pre-
carity. They conducted a qualitative study in Australia
on the experiences of single fathers who became home-
less with dependent children, subsequently using shel-
ter services. Fathers express a strong willingness to act
as a good role model to their children and feel a high
sense of responsibility to provide their children a safe
place with enough resources.
The experience of homelessness is gendered, both in
pathways into homelessness, and in the experience of
homelessness itself (Caton et al., 2000). This is related
to gender roles within cultures, as well as dierential
access to certain resources. Among those who are
emergency sheltered, statistics show dierential access
by gender, reective of the increased likelihood of
men seeking emergency shelter and women being
among the hidden homeless.Homeless fathers men-
tion the disparity of shelter services that they receive
that are particular to the needs of parents compared
to the services that are provided to women with chil-
dren (Schindler & Coley, 2007). Prevention strategies
may require dierent approaches to be tailored to t
diering genders.
Methodology
A secondary analysis was used to explore the experi-
ences of homelessness among families in a mid-sized
Canadian city. The data for this study were extracted
from a primary study (Forchuk et al., 2018), that
addressed the factors that lead to family homelessness
and explored eorts to divert families from the shelter.
In qualitative research Heaton (2004)denes second-
ary analysis as a methodology for non-naturalistic or
articial data that were collected from eldnotes,
2F. RABIAH-MOHAMMED ET AL.
observational records, tapes, and transcripts of either
interviews or focus groups in the original study.
Using pre-existing data is the core principle for this
methodology.
Heaton identies three purposes of secondary analy-
sis, with this study following the purpose of using data
in a dierent way than the primary study ndings by
asking new questions. In particular, new research ques-
tions were addressed to explore new ndings around
family homelessness in terms of gender. In addition
to purpose, Heaton identies ve types of secondary
analysis (2004). These typologies are: supra analysis,
supplementary analysis, re-analysis, amplied analysis,
and assorted analysis. Supplementary analysis is
described as an in-depth focus on prominent issues
in the primary study that was partially addressed or
not addressed at all. In this supplementary secondary
analysis, particular attention is paid to a topic that
was not the main focus of the primary study, but was
present in the data.
Methods
Sample and data collection
The primary study sampling method was purposive
sampling where participants were 16 years old or
more and spoke English to the degree where they can
understand and respond during the data collection
process. Homeless individuals who participated in the
focus groups self-identied diverse ethnicities such as
Caucasian, Latin American, First Nations, Mulatto,
and Arab. The sample included some participants
who had received shelter diversion and some who
had not. All participants were recruited directly from
an emergency family shelter that was trialling a new
diversion program. This secondary analysis focused
on the transcripts from the 4 focus groups with 36 par-
ticipants who did not receive diversion but rather
arrived directly into the shelter and became homeless,
as well as from the shelter stafocus groups. It is
important to highlight that most of the participants
were women, and male participants in attendance
made limited contributions. Therefore, mothers are
the primary focus of the analysis. Some of the questions
that were asked in the focus groups are: What are the
factors and situations that you perceive to put families
at risk for homelessness? How do family structure, gen-
der, race, age, and mental health status aect these fac-
tors? What are the health, social, and economic
outcomes (quality of life, social inclusion and costs/
cost savings) of the prevention program?
Data analysis
To assist with data management for analysis, as well as
the coding process, Nvivo software was used. The
analysis process was deductive in that gender was the
concept of focus as a supplementary secondary analy-
sis, and inductive in that thematic analysis allowed
for themes to arise from the data, as long as they
were related to the research questions and gender
focus. Braun and Clarkes(2006) thematic analysis pro-
cess was used for data analysis. The transcripts were
rst read through as a preliminary scan, and then to
develop a preliminary coding scheme, which was
shared with one of the research supervisors for feed-
back and renement. Participants words were con-
sidered in forming the codes, and particular
consideration was given to text that relates to gender
and gender roles. Audiotapes were accessed to better
analyze the transcriptions for intonation, pause, and
stress. The textual data were then coded, and through
NVIVO, this text was separated out by these codes.
Themes were then proposed, brought to the research
team for revisions and assistance with naming, and
the text was then re-coded to the themes. These data
were extracted by theme and these themes formed
the structure of the ndings and are presented herein.
Final analysis occurred through the writing of the
ndings.
Rigour
To enhance credibility and ttingness, one of the co-
investigators is the lead researcher on the primary
study. The lead investigator for the secondary analysis
maintained a reective journal to note perceptions,
feelings, and thoughts regarding homelessness and
gender so as to constantly assess personal biases
throughout the analysis. People experiencing home-
lessness came from dierent backgrounds and ethnici-
ties; due to the inclusive nature of the primary research
design, data collection was conducted through
interpretation as necessary. In addition, Lincoln and
Guba (1986) provide criteria to ensure the creditability
of ndings, which is applied in this analysis by includ-
ing diverse viewpoints of both people experiencing
homelessness and stain the analysis.
Findings
Data were sought to address the following questions:
(1) What roles do homeless parents identify related
to gender? (2) What are the gender-based experiences
of homeless parents? The analysis is presented in four
themes that explain the experience of family homeless-
ness with a focus on gender. These themes are: a scar-
city of resources, relationship breakdown, living with
precarious mental health, and a common experience.
The rst three themes reveal on the gendered nature
of womens pathways into homelessness, where the
last theme highlights that during times of extreme crisis
and housing loss, all parents undergo very common
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL DISTRESS AND THE HOMELESS 3
experiences and challenges related to meeting housing
needs and supporting their children.
Scarcity of resources
According to participants, a lack of resources, such as
limited nancial assistance, aordable housing, and
subsidized childcare create risk for the experience of
family homelessness. For example, some services that
are provided for people who experience homelessness
are designated for single persons, limiting the options
for support for families. This is seen most often in
emergency shelters, with the majority of shelters desig-
nated for single adults (Segaert, 2017), but can also
include drop-in spaces, mental health crisis services,
or addiction supports. In this sample, service accessibil-
ity was highlighted, in particular, it is hard to nd
aordable childcare; waitlists for subsidized childcare
are perceived as quite long. In shelters, 89% of families
are led solely by mothers (Gaetz et al., 2016), and 81%
of children who are living with one parent in a lone-
parent family are living with a female parent (Statistics
Canada, 2017). As women are more likely to be custo-
dial parents in single-parent households experiencing
poverty, mothers particularly expressed their sense of
exclusion from resources of support. A mother of
three children highlighted that while services exist to
help with education and employment, these are not
useful if they dont include childcare: Well, there is
free stubut you gotta look for them and they dont
always provide childcare if you have kids, so thats
another issue.This issue of accessibility was also high-
lighted in the context of breastfeeding women as they
are unable to leave their young children for any signi-
cant length of time, But, if you are a family and you are
a breastfeeding mom like I am, I cant always get out
and go and do stulike I have to have her with me.
Another example of resource scarcity felt more fre-
quently by women is in housing biases against families.
Some apartment owners explicitly rejected families
with children, which again, in the context of single-
parent families are more likely to be female-led.
Relating specically to opportunities to obtain
employment and stabilize income, access to subsidized
childcare and maternity leave are two factors that some
mothers highlighted as particular challenges. Childcare
in the city where the research was conducted is notably
expensive, with even subsidized fees around $116 per
month (Ministry of Children, Community and Social
Services, 2019). The perceived limited availability of
childcare subsidies to oset these costs disproportio-
nately eects womens career options, putting the
entire family into housing precarity. One participant,
a mother of one child, noted a form of income cli
related to income resources and childcare as employ-
ment at a certain level made her ineligible for childcare
subsidy. Like if you make a certain amount of money,
you dont quality for subsidized day care,but she
required the subsidy to become established in this
employment. Likewise, for some participants maternity
leave benets were insucient and led mothers to
choose between housing precarity or simply foregoing
their leave. One participant was currently not working
because she was on maternity leave and her salary had,
therefore, dropped to $600 a month. This was ident-
ied as a contributing factor in her family becoming
homeless she conrms I am on maternity leave so
yah, so my income dropped 600 dollars a month
That was part of the issue, like the past ve years.
Other nancial resource issues mentioned by par-
ticipants included credit scores and child tax credit
issues. Women on average have lower credit scores
than men, related both to the gender wage gap and
that based on traditional gender roles, men are more
likely to have household bills being paid in their
name (Glendinning & Millar, 1992; Li, 2018). In this
study, some women reported having a poor credit
score as a barrier to accessing the rental housing mar-
ket. We got denied everywhere because of bad credit
one mother stated. Other women mentioned that they
do not have any credit at all and a lot of places they,
they want that up front now but at the same time
if you dont have established credit yet.In terms of
the child tax credit, some women noted that due to
the incongruence between rental costs and social assist-
ance, they depend on this income source to make-ends-
meet from month-to-month. All my OW cheque goes
to rent,said one mother. Mothers express their frus-
tration about this stating, So now Im living oof
my babys money a month for food, for everything
else when really it shouldnt be like that.This is incon-
gruent with child benets being to support the costs of
parenting:
The baby bonus [The Canada child benetisa
monthly payment for families under certain eligibility
requirements to help raise their children who are
under 18 years old] is supposed to go to their school-
ing [school], their post-secondary education and
their clothes. Its not supposed to be on your rent
and paying your monthly things.
A mother of one child was in a nancial crisis because
she had not received her child benet for eight months
due to lost paperwork. When she did get the money for
the eights month all at once, Ontario Works, employ-
ment and nancial public assistance, reduced her social
assistance payment as the lump payment exceeded an
earning threshold. This mother said, and thats not
fair because, like I mean, I went 8 months without
any money.
Relationship breakdown
While relationship breakdown is a known risk factor
for homelessness in general, in this study a specic
4F. RABIAH-MOHAMMED ET AL.
relationship breakdown was identied by participants
as related to homelessness, which is landlord-tenant
relationships. In rental situations, some participants
were less aware of their rights and obligations as
tenants, so they were either misled by landlords or
tried to avoid any conict with them. A shelter sta
participant noted: Other ones where their landlord
may be taking advantage of them and theyre served
with papers from the tribunal and they have no idea
what these papers are and are fearful.Shelter sta
members worked to prevent these situations by playing
the role of educator and teaching participants about
obligations and rights as a tenant. Without this sup-
port, participants noted their feeling of disempower-
ment in relationships with landlords. When fearful of
the landlord or unaware of their rights, they pack up
and go because somebody of authority has told them
to do thateven without a formal eviction process.
Shelter stanoted that at times they had to encourage
women in conict with their landlord to even commu-
nicate at all with the landlord due to fear.
Participants noted the gendered nature of harass-
ment that some experienced by landlords, a female par-
ticipant says, No, there are some gender racist
landlords in this city.One participant had transi-
tioned to transgender female and adopted a baby. She
sought an upgrade to a two-bedroom apartment to
accommodate her family, but instead reports being
evicted due to what she believes was prejudice by the
landlord. Shelter stanoted that landlords were more
likely to be aggressive towards women, sharing the
story of a landlord who showed up at one womans
place at 10 oclock screaming, yelling, and demanding
money. Participants highlighted that as female parents
living in nancial precarity, they at times felt particu-
larly aggressively targeted by male landlords, both as
women and as people in poverty.
Living with precarious mental health
Striving to maintain a balance between family respon-
sibilities and mental health may result in deterioration
of mental health to mental illness, which in turn inu-
ences mothersabilities to maintain the integrity of the
family. To meet the needs of the family, participants
tended to prioritize others rst, and when it comes to
their own mental health they give up or ignore it. A
shelter stamember says, um, a lot of them, um,
kind of neglected their health because they had so
many other things going on that was more of a pri-
ority.Another shelter stamember highlighted how
mental health challenges can impair peoples ability
to meet the requirements of sustaining housing, such
as missing required appointments with their Ontario
Works worker.
Some, if they have a mental health issue, they are not
capable of either remembering or doing that on a
month to month basis which their Ontario Works
has been cut othen rent is not being paid, some
are not being able to keep up with the mental health
part too.
Mental illness is a risk factor for homelessness for
both men and women, however, there are gendered
dierences in the rates and experiences of mental ill-
ness. In particular, women experience higher rates of
depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
and anxiety (Marcus et al., 2008; WHO, 2013). At the
same time, they are less likely to consult mental health
specialists (Gagné, Vasiliadis, & Préville, 2014). In this
sample, several women reported living with depression,
anxiety, and panic attacks that impeded their ability to
manage household or nancial responsibilities.
Women identied the complexity of their situations
where they tried to manage parenthood in the context
of poverty, while also living with mental health con-
cerns. A mother with three children spoke to food inse-
curity and her choices around food, stating: Like for
me tend to go out and spend money on say like fast
food because its too much to cook or to buy stufor
their kids because they are outside and they feel bad
.Another woman described her journey with men-
tal illness, which contributed to her experience of
homelessness, as a failure to avert nancial hardships.
Ultimately, she entered a mental health crisis and she
was no longer able to maintain her employment. This
woman summed up her experience of psychological,
nancial, and career challenges as a spiral: Bad credit.
That was due to mental health I had great credit, I
ended up having a nervous breakdown and couldnt
work for a while, all bills got backed up and [have]
never been able to catch up.
Treatment itself does not guarantee that one will be
protected from the challenges of living with mental ill-
ness. For example, being on certain medications can
impair the ability to perform daily organizational func-
tions such as paying bills and paying the rent. A partici-
pant explained that
just on medication, you might have to be aware of the
things [that] are happening in the family such as
nances and things like that because with medication
in that they to manage their nance. And then they
cant always function at a certain level.
The relationship between mental health and housing
precarity also comes out in terms of addiction and
the impact on nancial security. One participant
spoke to how poverty and addiction are interrelated
in her life: So you turn to smoking or alcohol or
drugs, which gets you in a hole even deeper because
that costs money.One woman spoke to how the
addictive habits of her partner eected the family as a
whole: He had other choices for his money, like
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL DISTRESS AND THE HOMELESS 5
substance abuse problems.During the focus group
discussion of causes of homelessness, when one
woman mentioned addiction, her husband irately sta-
ted, I dont want to even think about that [drugs] or
I will use this [drugs].Several women noted that
before the onset of homelessness there is unbearable
stress to cope with, and some people try to escape
these stressful feelings by using substance and sacri-
cing anything else including family responsibilities. In
this way, there is a negative spiral related to poverty,
lack of resources, and means of nding temporary
relief that prove harmful. One woman stated that:
The drug becomes more important than the family.
Another woman agreed, stating that: I would say yes
because my ex smokes pot and he felt that was more
important than spending time with me and my son
and thats kind of why Im here.
Common experiences
This nal theme encompasses the time period where
male and female parents encounter crises that stress
their ability to maintain housing and subsequently
lead them and their family into homelessness. In a
way, traditional gender roles collapse during housing
crises as the sole focus becomes meeting immediate
family demands and essentially survival. Both males
and females had a common experience when circum-
stances escalated to threaten their family health and
well-being and precipitated a move to precarious hous-
ing or emergency shelters. In this sample, there were a
diversity of pathways into homelessness. Some
involved geographic moves, such as from rural to
urban areas, or moves for the sake of children being
bullied in school. In that particular case, the participant
stated: It was against my will. I was forced to leave.
She also explains how it was unsafe as he had been
hit with a knife in the school cafeteriaand she, there-
fore, left the province. When crises hit and families
were de-housed, the only priority was to meet basic
necessities such as safety.
When homelessness occurred for families, men and
women responded very much alike in terms of housing
responsibility and childcare. To nd new housing, both
men and women reached out to a diversity of resources
such as searching online, communicating with social
assistance caseworkers, meeting with potential land-
lords, trying to nd a guarantor, saving to collect rst
and last rent payment, gathering required paperwork,
or even purchasing furniture. During the search for
housing, parents all spoke to considering the needs of
children. For example, much discussion was about
their childrens health and feelings. Parents would
leave their home for some reasons like issues in school,
[my] kids were bullied and hit and laughed at.Part of
the urgency of parents was related to concerns about
their childrens experiences in emergency shelters.
One mother said, and itsaecting our kids behavior
the kids can feel the parents stress and anxiety and
when parents are stressed over housing and it tram-
ples down to the kids.Another mother felt threatened
when the caseworker informed her that her children
could be taken away by Child Aid Services if she was
unable to secure adequate housing. My kids suered
mental health issues,she says. My daughter started
crying because of the behaviour of the shelter.
Discussion
The rst theme, Scarcity of resourcesdepicts how for
many families, homelessness is a terminal point to an
ongoing experience of nancial challenges. This can
include a nancial crisis in addition to already living
in poverty, which ultimately escalates into homeless-
ness. Within this theme, resourcesmeans both
material and immaterial tools that the family could
have to be sustainable in term of maintaining house.
Material resources are things such as nancial assets
or cash, whether through income or nancial assistance
such as a child benet or social assistance payment.
Immaterial resources include public services such as
subsidized childcare, social services, and social sup-
ports. There is a relationship between these resources
in terms of maintaining housing even in the face of
poverty. For example, increasing rental costs may be
managed in the context of subsidized childcare or an
increase in social assistance, but families may have no
capacity to absorb sudden changes such as job loss,
marital separation, or a claw back in public benets.
While scarcity of resources is a concern for all low-
income families, it was notable that the majority of the
concerns were coming from mothers. The gendered
nature of society and work intersects with the experi-
ence of family poverty. For example, women are
more likely to be in a parenting role versus employ-
ment in a two-parent household, limiting their nan-
cial opportunities in the context of family breakdown.
Additionally, women are more likely to be the custodial
parent in single-parent families. Therefore, limits in
access to adequate social assistance, aordable housing
for families, subsidized childcare, and other resources
disproportionately aect women.
The second theme proposed from the data is
relationship breakdown,and in this case includes
relationships with landlords in addition to family
relationships. Where much of the research literature
on family homelessness and womens homelessness
has focused on intimate partner violence and relation-
ship breakdown, participants in focus groups spoke to
lacking social supports and having conicts with land-
lords. Some participants expressed how they were mis-
led, harassed, and forced to do certain things such as
leaving a rental unit before even a formal eviction
order had been issued. This is not to imply that all
6F. RABIAH-MOHAMMED ET AL.
women are vulnerable to harassment by male land-
lords, but rather to reect that gender is one of the
intersecting social locations that impacts how a preda-
tory landlord might treat a tenant.
Living with precarious mental healthis the third
theme that captures the gender-based experiences of
family homelessness. Statistics on homelessness
demonstrate that women report higher incidences of
stress, depression, and panic attacks, while men are
more likely to use substances. This was evident as
well among our participants as women spoke to their
precarious mental health, as well as concerns related
to substance use by partners. Both of these were factors
that either contributed to their becoming homeless, or
were exacerbated during the experience of homeless-
ness. The ndings show that before the onset of home-
lessness, mothers tended to prioritize tasks that keep
the family stable at the expense of managing their
own mental health. However, this was a catch-22 as
when their mental health then declined, their ability
to maintain their housing deteriorated. For mothers,
there was particular pressure to demonstrate that
everything was ok, to keep the family intact, and to
simply be a good mom.Thus, when the family still
hit a crisis state in spite of their eorts, there were par-
ticular feelings of shame and guilt also contributing to
mental health decline. In this way, cultural norms
related to motherhood became an additional source
of distress.
The fourth and nal theme we have called a com-
mon experience.This theme describes the reaction
of both men and women when their family enters
homelessness, and that we observed very similar
experiences at this time of crisis. Therefore, when look-
ing at the gender in the experience of family homeless-
ness, in the ndings we heard that male-led and
female-led families encounter nearly identical activities
to prioritize and meet immediate survival needs. In
terms of attempting to rapidly be re-housed, we
observed no gender dierences. Both men and
women as parents worked tirelessly to convince land-
lords to take them, to obtain and leverage nancial
resources, to keep children safe and minimize their
life disruption, and to obtain and maintain necessary
resources such as toiletries and furniture. While gender
dierences were evident in pathways into homeless-
ness, in describing time in shelter and eorts to leave
shelter, stories were strikingly similar.
The results speak to the strong relationship between
poverty and high housing costs with family homeless-
ness. Poremski, Distasio, Hwang, and Latimer (2015)
conrm that people who experience homelessness
reported lack of income or cost of housing as the two
major causes for homelessness. Goodman, Smyth,
and Banyard (2010) as well as Canada Without Poverty
(2019) discuss the issue of poverty among homeless
mothers and argue that deprivation of resources, either
economic or material, creates a state of powerlessness,
isolation and social exclusion for these women. Our
data support these concerns and further explain the
situation as women. For that reason, supports are
needed so that women who are breastfeeding or
women who are sole parents are able to access necess-
ary resources. Similarly, consideration needs to be
given as to how women with low or no credit are
able to independently access the rental housing market.
This gendered relationship to poverty has long been as
concern as Glendinning and Millar (1992) pointed out
that the traditional structure of the family in Canada
makes women more dependant and prone to experien-
cing poverty (Canadian Womens Foundation, 2017).
While Mottola (2013) highlights nancial literacy as
an intervention to support low-income women, what
we heard was more about the severe lack of funds for
families rather than how funds were utilized. The
high cost of rent and low credit scores impacted the
ability of women to rapidly exit homelessness and
thus prolonged shelter stays. Therefore, there is an
urgent need to consider current social assistance rates
and the misalignment with the reality of current mar-
ket rents.
Apart from income in general, childcare costs appear
to be closely associated with the ability to meet costs of
supporting a family, and disproportionately aect low-
income women. Unaordable childcare can be a barrier
to employment or training for women. Milaney,
Ramage, Fang, and Louis (2017) summarize the barriers
that prevent women who experience homelessness from
obtaining better employment opportunities, and child-
care is identied as a primary issue Thus, more subsi-
dized childcare spaces are required and access to these
spaces needs to be rapid should housing a nancial sta-
tus change rapidly.
The stories that participants told of relationships
with landlords demonstrate that tenants are not ade-
quately protected, and particularly female tenants
noted mistreatment by male landlords. This is not to
imply that all landlords are predatory or those land-
lords who harassed tenants wanted them to become
homeless, but rather that there is an imbalance of
power in this scenario that requires external interven-
tion. While shelter staplayed the role of educators
to teach individuals their rights and obligations as
tenants, ideally these supports would be in place
prior to loss of housing. Consideration, therefore,
should be made about how existing legal aid clinics
outreach specically to women, and particularly
women who are sole custodial parents. Families may
be unaware of legal aid services available, and legal
aid services may not be geared to provide advice in
the context where there is gender-based harassment
from the landlord against the tenant. Future research
should look to the resources that women would nd
most helpful in order to protect them from landlords.
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL DISTRESS AND THE HOMELESS 7
Womens mental health challenges are a risk factor
for family homelessness. As well, family homelessness
negatively impacts womens mental health. Rayburn
and Guittar (2013) note that mothers in shelter feel
stigmatized by staas bad parents and are sub-
sequently destabilized. Fauci and Goodman (2019)
found that the experience of homelessness and parent-
ing is dicult and parents often develop feelings of
shame, guilt and depression. The focus on mental
health by women is congruent with Poleshuck, Cerrito,
Leshoure, Finocan-Kaag, and Kearney (2013)who
noted that the prevalence of depression among
women experiencing homelessness is higher than for
men. Unfortunately, participants also noted that
using medication to treat mental illness can also impair
ones ability to track their house obligations such as
paying rent monthly, increasing the risk of housing
loss. Therefore, it is as pertinent as ever that commu-
nity-based mental health supports be readily available
to those who face barriers to access, in this case, the
barrier of caring for children. Women should not
have to choose between caring for their children and
accessing mental health care for themselves. Home-
based interventions such as mood trackers that sync
with electronic medical records may be a practice to
help women, although more research is needed in
this area.
Men and women respond similarly in a crisis situ-
ation in order to sustain and re-house their family. In
our sample, both parents would try hard to meet
their childrens needs and choices regardless of how
long they were in the shelter. The parenting experience
in homeless shelters was described as hard and stress-
ful. Sylvestre et al. (2018) conrmed the complexity
for a family to live in a shelter by explaining the nature
of parenting that included lacking privacy and being
scrutinized and criticized for their parenting. This
compounds a fear of having children apprehended
into the child welfare system. Fauci and Goodman
(2019) note the added pressures on parents in shelter
to try to meet basic needs while performing publicly
as a good parent. To address parentsneeds, shelter
stashould be encouraged and trained in supportive
roles for parents. By simultaneously assisting with
meeting basic needs while positively rearming par-
enting, they can support both men and women who
are parenting in emergency shelters to be empowered
and able to focus on what is most immediately
important.
Therefore, the ndings of this study have impli-
cations for service delivery, models of support, and
resource assistance policy. This includes training for
family shelter sta, delivery of community-based men-
tal health care, delivery of legal aid, and social assist-
ance policy. Future research should explore the
particularities of this service delivery and preferences
of families themselves. In particular, what
community-based mental health interventions are
women looking for that would meet their needs with-
out detracting from their ability to support their
families? This is a particular opportunity for health
providers to show leadership in knowledge develop-
ment as case management in community settings is a
skillset familiar to nursing as a profession. Similarly,
is knowledge of tenant rights sucient to protect
women from predatory landlords, or are further sup-
ports required? In terms of social assistance needs, it
is unfortunate that Ontarios basic income pilot study
was ended early before results were generated and dis-
seminated, as there is a need to explore rates that are
sucient to assist families in maintaining housing
while also providing a stable platform for education
and employment. Until the exact rate is known, it is
clear that current rates make single-parent families vul-
nerable to housing loss if there is any crisis.
As this study is a secondary analysis, there are limit-
ations in the data as gender was not a central concept in
the primary study, consequently was rarely discussed
explicitly. The questions that guided the focus groups
were not directly in line with the research questions
that have guided this secondary analysis. Rather, the
gendered meaning of experiences had to be interpreted
from the focus group discussions, and there was no
opportunity to go back to participants for clarication
or to elicit further data. What proved helpful was that
the data from the primary study was at least coded so
that the sex of each speaker was indicated in the tran-
scripts. Another limitation related to the focus on gen-
der was in the male to female ratio of the participants.
Female participants signicantly outnumbered male
participants and the male participants contributed
less to the focus group discussions, which may aect
how much males spoke to the experiences of father-
hood in the context of homelessness. The third limit-
ation of the study was that the focus groups consisted
of those families who already had or were experiencing
homelessness. This meant that for some participants,
reecting back on pathways into homelessness
involved longer historical recall rather than experiences
which were current or recent.
Conclusion
Four themes were identied related to the gender-
based experiences of family homelessness: Scarcity of
resources, relationship breakdown, living with precar-
ious mental health, and a common experience. While
women faced unique challenges in terms of pathways
into homelessness, in a way the experience of crisis
during homelessness collapsed gender roles as mothers
and fathers were striving to help their families become
re-housed. A common theme through the stories of
participants was insucient resources and insucient
services. In this way, family homelessness is as much
8F. RABIAH-MOHAMMED ET AL.
a symptom of an under-resourced system as it is about
interpersonal conict within families. By better meet-
ing the needs of families experience poverty, there is
promise to prevent homelessness before it occurs.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to recognize the participants for
taking time to share their stories in the midst of their experi-
ences of homelessness. The authors were the sole contribu-
tors. Ethics approval for the primary study was granted by
Cheryl Forchuk.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed, MScN, is at Arthur Labatt
Family School of Nursing, Western University.
Abe Oudshoorn, RN, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in
Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Western
University.
Cheryl Forchuk, RN, PhD, is the Beryl and Richard Ivey
Research Chair in Aging, Mental Health, Rehabilitation
and Recovery
ORCID
Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed http://orcid.org/0000-0001-
5079-6949
Cheryl Forchuk http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6936-3932
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10 F. RABIAH-MOHAMMED ET AL.
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Homelessness has consequences for families, including risk of deterioration in the health of their members, disruption of family dynamics, and separation of parents and children. This study used qualitative interviews to explore pathways into and perceived consequences of homelessness among 18 families living in an emergency family shelter system in Canada. Findings showed that families’ experiences prior to their homelessness were characterized by vulnerability, instability, and isolation. In the emergency shelter system, families faced new challenges in environments that were restrictive, noisy, chaotic, and afforded little privacy. Participants described a further disruption of relationships and described having to change their family practices and routines. Despite the challenges that families encountered, some participants felt optimistic and hopeful about the future. Future research is needed on ways in which shelters can be more hospitable, supportive, and helpful for parents and their families to minimize negative impacts and facilitate timely rehousing of families.
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Text, multimedia, and other qualitative data are important sources of information for HCI researchers and practitioners. Probably the most unique characteristic of qualitative data analysis is that it involves human coding. The absence of numeric data and direct measures makes qualitative data analysis more susceptible to biased interpretation or subjective manipulation. Therefore, it is critical to adopt well established procedures and techniques to ensure high-quality analysis that is both valid and reliable. Although there is disagreement regarding its implementation process and guidelines, grounded theory is widely used for qualitative data analysis. When analyzing text content, we need to develop a set of coding categories that accurately summarizes the data or describes the underlying relationships or patterns buried in the data. Depending on the specific context of the research question, a priori coding or emergent coding may be used to generate the coding categories. In order to produce high-quality coding, multiple coders are usually recommended to code the data. Reliability control measures such as Cohen's Kappa should be calculated and evaluated throughout the coding process. The basic guidelines for analyzing text content also apply to multimedia content.
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Objectives: Research suggests that homeless people with mental illness may have difficulty obtaining employment and disability benefits. Our study provides a comprehensive description of sources of income and employment rates in a large Canadian sample. Methods: Participants (n = 2085) from the 5 sites of the At Home/Chez Soi study were asked about their income, employment, and desire for work during the pre-baseline period. The proportion of participants employed, receiving government support, and relying on income from other activities were compared across sites, as were total income and income from different sources. Generalized linear models were used to identify participant characteristics associated with total income. Results: Unemployment ranged from 93% to 98% across 5 sites. The per cent of participants who wanted to work ranged from 61% to 83%. Participants relied predominantly on government assistance, with 29.5% relying exclusively on welfare, and 46.2% receiving disability benefits. Twenty-eight per cent of participants received neither social assistance nor disability income. Among the 2085 participants, 6.8% reported income from panhandling, 2.1% from sex trade, and 1.2% from selling drugs. Regression models showed that income differed significantly among sites and age groups, and was significantly lower for people with psychotic illnesses. Conclusion: These results suggest that homeless people with mental illness are predominantly unemployed, despite expressing a desire to work. In Canada, this group relies predominantly on welfare, but has access to disability benefits and employment insurance. These findings highlight the importance of developing effective interventions to support employment goals and facilitate access to benefits.