Everyone Deserves a Sanctuary: Alienation as a Barrier to the Health and Healing of Older Women Who Experienced Homelessness




Fraser, Kendall

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Experiences of homelessness can result in social exclusion through stigmatization, discrimination, and displacement. Stress from lack of community integration for people who have been homeless can result in poorer health outcomes, including: higher rates of mental illness and chronic physical health conditions, substance dependence, loneliness, and suicide. This may be particularly true for older women who experience multiple intersections of marginalization. However, there is a lack of research that addresses how to facilitate a sense of belonging for and promote the health and healing of older women who have been homeless, and it is unclear what environmental conditions would help these women to transition out of homelessness and into a place of home that is stable, secure, and safe. This thesis stems from a larger community-based qualitative study that explores the experiences of older women who have been homeless and service providers in the homeless-serving sector, with the goal of building priority recommendations for system improvements. My research aims to address two research questions: 1) how have older women been marginalized and rendered invisible within homeless environments; and 2) how do homelessness experiences and environments shape older women’s behaviour? The theoretical frameworks of intersectionality and alienation guided this thesis, focusing on and developing insights into older women’s experiences of stigma and social exclusion and the impacts this marginalization has on their health. My findings derived from a secondary analysis of 11 out of 20 existing qualitative interviews with older women who have been homeless in Victoria, British Columbia, which revealed that older women were marginalized in homeless environments through a lack of safety and autonomy that contributed to high levels of alienation. Alienation prevented the development of a sense of home and belonging after homelessness that in turn impacted older women’s health and wellbeing. The recommendations from this analysis suggest that greater consideration to the concept of therapeutic landscapes for older women after homelessness would offer more opportunity for them to develop a sense of home and belonging. Overall, this project aims to fill a current gap in the literature on the social exclusion and subsequent health outcomes of older women who have experienced homelessness in Canada.



homelessness, older women, belonging, alienation, social exclusion, stigma, intersectionality, social determinants of health, housing insecurity, later life homelessness