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Understanding the experience of family homelessness in the context of single mothers' lives

Thomas Haydn Styron, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Over the course of the last two decades, homelessness has become one of America's major social problems. On any given night, hundreds of thousands of people can be found living in temporary shelters, abandoned buildings and on the streets of our nation. Many are single mothers with dependent children. A considerable amount of research in recent years has focused on the topic of family homelessness. Most studies have been conducted with families who were homeless at the time of the investigation. They have focused primarily upon the characteristics of homeless mothers and children and the conditions of shelter facilities. The goal of this research was to examine the experience of family homelessness from a somewhat broader perspective by interviewing formerly homeless mothers about their lives before and after leaving the shelter system. A qualitative approach was used in an effort to also convey a sense of individual women's lives. In-depth interviews were conducted with twenty-four formerly homeless single mothers in New York City. Transcripts of these interviews were subsequently analyzed using an interpretive approach. Major themes that emerged from the women's life stories are elucidated. These themes include childhood neglect and abuse, poverty, troubled interpersonal relationships, and the experience of homelessness. The women's descriptions of their lives since leaving the shelter system, including issues of housing, education, employment and mental health, are also examined. A majority of participants talked about their experience in the shelter system in positive terms. This finding is examined in the context of the women's life experiences and also the support services provided by the New York City shelter system.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Welfare|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Styron, Thomas Haydn, "Understanding the experience of family homelessness in the context of single mothers' lives" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737588.