Evid Based Nurs 3:132 doi:10.1136/ebn.3.4.132
  • Qualitative

Homeless people preserved former identities, devalued current identities, and envisioned a non-homeless future

 QUESTION: What is the lived experience of homelessness?


Qualitative study using an interactionist analysis of the human lived experience.


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


29 single adults (age range 18–61 y, 70% men) who used homeless shelters. More than half (52%) had never been homeless before.


Semistructured, individual interviews of 45 minutes to 2.5 hours were held in hostels, coffee shops, or the researchers' offices. The interview guide was based on the findings from a focus group of 8 homeless people. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Interviewer field notes were also transcribed. Analysis was based on a participatory team approach.

Main findings

Homelessness created identity problems for the participants, whereby positive former identities were preserved, current identity was devalued, and future identities were glimpsed.

In terms of the past self, homelessness meant the loss of an established identity on 2 levels: reduced access to entitlements (because of the lack of a permanent address) and the psychological loss …

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