Methods: Twenty-five in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with adults (ages 18+) who were currently or had recently experienced an episode of chronic homelessness. As this study focused on the intersection of race and gender within this subpopulation of those experiencing homelessness, recruitment focused on ensuring the sample was racially and gender diverse. Thus, there were no exclusion criteria on either of these two identities. Participants wererecruited through collaboration with a local homeless service provider street outreach team. Interviews elicited participants’ narratives about their chronic homelessness experience, including how participants became homeless, how they conceptualize their racial and gender identities, and how they feel these identities impacted their interactions with the homeless system of care. Interviews were coded thematically in Atlas.ti software, applying grounded theory and an inductive analytic approach. Interview responses were audio recorded and transcribed for coding. Open, axial, and thematic coding were used to identify and foster emerging theory.
Causal loop diagrams (CLD’s), a tool used within the field of System Dynamics to improve the definition of a dynamic problem and to better understand the larger processes within it, were developed with each participant and later entered in Stella Architect for analysis. CLD’s are used to visually represent variables identified directly by the population experiencing the system and how these variables interact. CLD’s have been widely used within the field of System Dynamics and Community-based System Dynamics as the foundation for formal simulation models. Applications within social welfare are nascent but show promise for better understanding of complex social processes.
Findings: Data suggest those experiencing chronic homelessness have varied ways of describing their racial and gender identities. While many individuals expressed experiences of everyday discrimination, white participants largely contextualized these experiences within their homelessness experience and not their racial identity. Differences between male- and female-identified individuals were noted, with males expressing a larger sense of control over their homelessness experience than female-identified participants. CLD’s garnered rich conversation with participants and increased participant reflection.
Conclusion: Findings underscore the importance of considering identity in the experience of chronic homelessness. Service providers should be mindful of implicit bias, given the importance of these identities in how individuals experience homelessness.