Becoming Housed: Beyond the Bricks and Mortar

Western University
April 24, 2018

In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here, and the second blog here. 


Housing is foundational to ending homelessness, foundational as a determinant of health, and foundational to community integration. However, housing itself does not guarantee health or integration.

Chris Chamberlain and Guy Johnson explore the question of community integration as outlined in Housing First models. They use the concept of ‘liminality’ to question integration after homelessness, a term referring to being between two worlds.

To address this question, they analyzed 157 interviews with 64 individuals exiting chronic homelessness through a Housing First program. All participants were housed at the final interview, and majority having been housed for over a year. Half of the participants had their first experience of homelessness as youth, three quarters identified as male, and all were receiving government income support.

Chamberlain and Johnson noted a sense of material “liminality” on first becoming housed, based on three challenges:

  • Participants lacked resources to furnish their new home and meet basic needs
  • Participants felt suddenly lonely in their new spaces
  • Participants were either new to or had been some time since managing a home.

However, the research team observed progress over time as participants gained control, acquired possessions, and settled into new autonomy.

Relational 'liminality’ proved more complex. While participants recognized new friendships and casual acquaintances developed in accessing services for people experiencing homelessness, these were often not built on the same bonds and common values of friendships of familial relationships from which they had become disconnected. While many participants disconnected from relationships built during their period of homelessness, they also struggled to reconnect with prior relationships. Familial relationships were often sources of past trauma, so participants were more likely to reconnect with their own children rather than with parents, siblings, or other blood relatives.

Lastly, participants experienced psychological “liminality” which involved carrying the stigma of the experience of homelessness, feeling both “discredited” and “discreditable.” While this sense declined over time, half the participants still felt this stigma by the final interview, despite having been in housing for a year on average.

The authors conclude that while Housing First programs continue to demonstrate good outcomes for rapid re-housing, that community integration needs to be an intentional process of such programs rather than a presumed outcome. While the material components of becoming housed might be more straight-forward to address (such as through furniture bank programs), the relational and stigma components are more complex. They conclude with a call for funding to be focused on community integration.

Dr. Abe Oudshoorn is an Assistant Professor in the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University.  Having worked as a nurse with people experiencing homelessness, Abe’s research focuses on health, homelessness prevention, mental health, and poverty.  Outside of the University, Abe is on the Steering Committee of the London Homeless Coalition and is a board member with the United Way of London & Middlesex.

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.