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The experience of homeless women: an exploration of housing histories and the meaning of home

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 05:02 authored by Annabel Tomas, Helga Dittmar
The exploratory study with homeless women presented in this paper aims to highlight two shortcomings in the current literature on homelessness, which accompany the predominant conceptualisation of ‘home’ as a place of safety and security, and homelessness as a primarily structural issue characterised by ‘residential instability’. The first is the paucity of research on homeless women in their own right and the second the lack of studies which examine underlying reasons for residential instability from homeless women's own perspectives. An intensive, small sample interview study was carried out with 12 regular women users of a day centre for homeless people (Brighton, south of England). They were asked about their patterns of residence, reasons for moving, definitions of ‘house’, ‘home’, and ‘ideal home’, and they gave their housing histories in some detail. In a quantitative analysis, their patterns of moving and definitions of ‘home’ were compared to those of a group of securely housed women. Number of moves was comparable in both groups, but for the homeless women the majority of moves had been made to avoid abuse and social services relocations. Whilst all of the securely housed women could confidently define a difference in meaning between a ‘house’ and a ‘home’, only 3 of the 12 homeless women did. They equated ‘home’ with safety and security, the same terms used in the literature to define what housing means, and the two most salient features largely absent in homeless women's experience of housing. The meaning of home is further explored in a qualitative analysis, where the themes of safety and security—or rather their absence in abusive relationships—are traced through the homeless women's childhood, adolescence and adulthood. These exploratory findings question an easy equation between ‘residential instability’ and homelessness, and highlight the need to investigate further the reasons why women leave housing, and the relationship this has to an understanding of what ‘home’ means. Whilst current formulations suggest that the homelessness of women is a problem, and housing the solution, this study suggests that housing is the problem—homelessness may well be a solution.


Publication status

  • Published


Housing Studies




Taylor & Francis





Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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