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

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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 …

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  • Source of funding: Donner Canadian Foundation.

  • For correspondence: Dr K M Boydell, Community Health Systems Resource Group, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8, Canada. Fax +1 416 813 6011.