Methods: A case study approach was used to examine women’s homelessness transitions. We conducted 33 semi-structured interviews on service usage, homelessness histories, transitional programs experiences, and well-being. We recruited via snowball sampling at a women’s transitional shelter in a major Canadian city. Participant median age was 43 years; 30% were born outside of Canada; 55% were Francophone; 8% identified as Aboriginal; 32% reported homeless duration of more than one year.
We were able to engage 12 women in the second round of interviews one year later, which focused on their transitions out of the shelter into stable housing and their perceptions, retrospectively of the services they received to move on and find housing. We also asked about the stability of their current housing. Interviews were approximately one hour, transcribed verbatim, and coded thematically using NVivo software.
Findings: Women reported valuing the time to transition from homelessness to housing. For some, the social support within the shelter was instrumental to stabilization after relationship ruptures or mental health crises, for establishing sobriety, obtaining a reliable source of income, or for breaking isolation. Conversely, some women reported a lack of feeling safe, of privacy, and shelter uncleanliness; these women were anxious to leave as soon as possible.
Women moved on to a variety of types of housing. Although many benefited from rent subsidies, insecurity of housing programs and limited income were common concerns. Through the data analysis process, three themes of the women’s use of transitional services emerged: 1) participation in transitional programs as a pathway to stable housing; 2) the promotion of stability and wellbeing through structure and support offered; and 3) temporary shelter stays for those in transition to non-traditional housing.
Conclusion and Implications: The results suggest that there is a diversity of benefits to transitional housing services as well as many different trajectories into and out of homelessness. The women emphasized the necessity for flexibility and adaptability of the programming to meet diverse needs. In contrast to Housing First-centric policies and discourses, our data demonstrates the ongoing importance of transitional housing programs informed by the lived experiences of women. Our research is a university-community organization collaboration. Results are immediately applicable to improving service provision within the organization and to inform policies to address the unique needs of homeless women.