Methods: This qualitative study consisted of a series of separate in-depth interviews with homeless older adults and their outreach workers, as well as fieldwork observations with older adult – outreach worker dyads. The study setting was an organization dedicated to ending elder homelessness and the sample consisted of 20 homeless older adults selected using a two-stage purposive randomized sampling strategy and 6 outreach workers selected using purposive sampling. Data was collected over the course of one year and initially analyzed using an inductive approach (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). While some forego coding to rely on phenomenological interpretations of themes and meanings (van Manen, 1990), coding was utilized to capture the content and essence of the data (Saldana, 2009). This paper will discuss the specific coding strategies and procedures utilized to maintain authenticity while incorporating relevant sensitizing concepts. At first, themes were used as simply as possible for “meaning condensation,” then woven together for “meaning interpretation” for further exploration and explanation of meaning (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). Conceptual theorizing was used to illuminate concepts that identify common aspects of the phenomena of elder homelessness, and interrelationships between concepts surrounding the phenomena. Ways in which the phenomenological constructivist stance influenced data collection, analysis, and presentation will be discussed.
Findings: Core themes that emerged from study data were related to older adults' and outreach workers' constructions of pathways in and out of homelessness, as well as the experience and meaning of being homeless. Participant narratives wove a tapestry of personal struggle, frayed social support, and systemic failure, undergirded by cumulative disadvantaged and trauma across the lifespan. Findings highlight the complex, multi-faceted factors impacting the housing and homeless status of older adults and provide potential strategies for problem resolution.
Implications: This study provides valuable insights as to what those on the frontlines perceive to be key individual- and structural-level factors in addressing elder homelessness. Further, this study offers a specific example of the application of a phenomenological constructivist approach, highlighting the impact of epistemological perspectives on methodological strategies.