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EXPLORING THE LEISURE OF MOTHERS WHO ARE LIVING IN A HOMELESS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE IN RECREATIONAL STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
This study is dedicated to the mothers who are homeless and their constant fight for survival and
normalcy, especially for their children. Their dedication and perseverance is an inspiration.
I would first like to acknowledge the wisdom, support, and tremendous diligence
of both my chairs--Dr. Heather Gibson and Dr. Candace Ashton. They have been
amazing and I know my thesis would have been far inferior without their help. Secondly,
I would like to acknowledge Dr. Christy Lemak and Dr. Robert Beland for their support
and contributions to this study.
I would like to thank T.J. Rew for his love and support. He had the misfortune of
handling most of my mood swings, as well as receiving the brunt of my frustration. He
unfailingly stood beside me through this last and most stressful part. His objective view
to my thesis forced me to really know what I believe and to be able to support it.
My roommates also were forced to endure my mood swings and days of solitude.
They too were understanding and supportive through it all. I thank them for making me
laugh, and hugging me when I wanted to cry. I thank them for their patience.
I know that without the support and prayers of my friends, I would not have kept
my sanity through this process. I cannot fully express my gratitude and appreciation of
Finally, I would like to acknowledge my parents. They were supportive of my
decision to continue schooling in many ways.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS ................................. .......... .. iv
A B ST R A C T ................................................. ........ viii
1 INTRODUCTION ....................................................1
Statement of the Problem ................................................ 5
Theoretical Framework ...................................... ...........11
Feminist Theory ................................................... 12
Symbolic-Interactionist Theory ......................................15
Grounded Theory ................ ................... ............. 16
Research Questions ..................................... .............. 16
2 LITERATURE REVIEW. ............................................. 17
Homelessness in Florida ................. ................... ........... 20
Causes of Homelessness ................. ................... ........... 22
Housing ........ ................................................ .23
Declining W ages ................ ................... .............. 25
M ental Illness ............................................. ........ 27
Addiction .......... ............................................. .27
Causes Specific to Women. ................ ................... ... ...28
Services to People Who Are Homeless ................................... 30
Impact of Homelessness ................. ............................ ..32
Needs ........ ................................................... 33
Disaffiliation. .................................... ................. 34
Powerlessness ............................................. ........ 36
Dignity ........ .................................................. 37
W omen's Needs ................................................... 40
Recreation and Leisure Needs of People Who Are Homeless. ................... 42
Women's Leisure ........ ......................................... 46
Constraints ........ .............................................. .48
3 METHODS ......... ............................................... 51
Naturalistic Research ........................................ ......... 51
Sites ........ .. .... .................... ............... .... ......52
St. Thomas House ........ ........................................52
Salvation Army ................ .............................. 54
Participants................ ........................... ....... 55
Alison (STH) ........ ...........................................56
Tracy (STH) .......... ...........................................57
Rachel (STH) ......... ..........................................58
Virginia (SA) ........... ...... ................................. 59
Andrea (SA) ......... ...........................................59
Cindy (SA) ......... ............................................60
Krystal (SA) ......... ...........................................61
Emily (SA) ......................................................61
Non-Interviews ..................................... .............. 62
. .. .. . . . . . . . . . 62
Analysis.......... ........................ ....... 64
4 RESULTS ........ ................................................. 67
Shelter Life ......... ......................................
Daily Routine .......... .................................
Positive Aspects. .......................................
Negative Aspects .......... ...............................
C h ildren .. ... . . . . .. .
People ........... ...... ..............................
Lack of Employment ...................................
Lack of Transportation. ..................................
Change in Stressors ....................................
Coping Techniques. .....................................
Ethic of Care ......... .....................................
Others First ......... ...................................
Children First ......... ..................................
Impact of an Ethic of Care. ...............................
Lack of Autonomy .......... ................................
Leisure ......... ...... ..............................
. . . 7 0
. . . 8 3
. . . 8 3
. . . 84
. . . 8 5
5 DISCUSSION ......................................................103
Shelter Life ........ ......... .............................
Constraints ......... ....................................
Stress .......... ...... ............................
Ethic of Care ......... ......... .........................
Lack of Automony .......... ......... ..................
Enablers ................ .............................
Utilization of Resources. ................... ................
. . .12 1
....... 12 1
Time and Space ........ ........................................123
Other Enablers ........ ......... ................................. 125
Resultant Model. ................... .................................. 127
Conclusions ........ ......... .......................... ......... .128
Leisure Research .................................................. 131
Leisure Practice ........ ......... ..................... ......... 133
Limitations and Delimitations ................... ....................... 137
A ST THOMAS HOUSE RULES FOR RESIDENTS. ......................... 139
B SALVATION ARMY HOUSE RULES. .. ........................... .141
C PARTICIPANT RECRUITMENT SCRIPT. ............................... 142
D INTERVIEW GUIDE ....................................... ........ .143
LIST OF REFERENCES ................................................145
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............... .......................... 158
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Recreational Studies
EXPLORING THE LEISURE OF MOTHERS WHO ARE LIVING IN A HOMELESS
Chair: Heather Gibson
Major Department: Recreation, Parks, and Tourism
Nationally, the number of people who are homeless continues to increase.
Among that population, the proportion of women and children is growing exponentially.
However, this segment of the population has been underrepresented in academic
literature. As a result, this study examined the lives of mothers living in a homeless
shelter. Specifically, it focused on leisure in the lives of these women, and how the
context of their lives affected, and was affected by, their leisure.
Residents from two homeless shelters took part in this study. Eight mothers from
the shelters were interviewed using a semi- structured format to learn about their lives.
The interviews were taped and transcribed, and analyzed using constant comparison.
Four of the mothers were Caucasian, three were African-American, and one was
Hispanic. Their ages ranged from 23 to 44 years old. Three of the mothers had attended
at least some college, and only one had not finished high school. None of the women
were employed at the time of the interview. Two mothers each had one of her two
children at another shelter, and another mother had neither of her children with her at the
Three themes emerged from the data: stress, an ethic of care, and a lack of
autonomy. All of the mothers had various stressors in their lives including the shelter
staff, their children, living up to the ethic of care, not having a job, the shelter rules, being
without a home, attitudes of other people, and a lack of autonomy in their lives. Despite
these constraints, the mothers were able to engage in activities inside as well as outside
the shelter that they found enjoyable, relaxing, and/or fun. All of the mothers went to the
library or read in their rooms, and most of the mothers had been to a nearby park or
garden. The mothers also enjoyed walking around, generally to relieve stress or get away
from stressors. The mothers also enjoyed spending time alone, talking to people,
smoking cigarettes, and listening to music. Usually these leisure activities were the
coping techniques used by the mothers to help them deal with their stressors and life
situation. An ethic of care appeared to influence the attitude and behaviors of these
mothers. This was evident in the way they put the needs of others, especially those of
their children, above their own.
Using grounded theory methods, a model of leisure for homeless mothers was
developed from the data. The model shows that while the mothers faced a variety of
constraint to their leisure, they were able to negotiate through the constraints with the
help of multiple enablers. The constraints included the shelter, stress, an ethic of care,
and a lack of autonomy. The enablers were the shelter, the available resources, their
family, time and space, and a number of other facilitators. The most significant influence
on their leisure was the shelter as it both constrained and enabled it.
It has been estimated that 20% of American households hold 78% of the nation's
wealth (Newman, 1997). However, the average family in the poorest 20% of the
population had a net worth of-$7, 075, meaning that the family owed more than it owned
(Newman). In 1997, 13.3% of the U.S. population, or 35.6 million people, lived in
poverty (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999a). The number of poor people
increased 41% between 1979 and 1990; families and children under 18 accounted for
more than half of that increase (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2001). In addition,
the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased the most. In 1997, 14.6
million people, 41% of all poor persons, had incomes of less than half the poverty level,
an increase of over 500,000 from 1995. A subsection of those in poverty are people who
are homeless. Ward (1995) observed that all homeless people are poor, and most have
been poor all their lives. Only 5% of the homeless have steady employment (Rubenstein,
1992). Moreover, 76% are chronically unemployed (Dilulio, 1992). Since many people
cannot or will not find employment, they have no income from which to pay for such
things as housing.
In 1991, the median age of the homeless population was 34 years, 20 years
younger than the median age two decades previously (Kutza & Keigher, 1991). King
(1992) approximated that 15% of the homeless population is comprised of children under
age five. It has been noted that the average age of people who are homeless is getting
younger, especially as women and children become a larger percentage of that population
(King; Kutza & Keigher). This is partly due to malnutrition, poor health habits, and lack
of medicines that plague those who are homeless and lead to their early deaths (National
Coalition for the Homeless, 1999b; Shinn & Weitzman, 1996).
Moreover, Dail (1992) observed that the homeless population is as diverse as the
general population. In its 1998 survey of 30 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found
that the homeless population was 49% African-American, 32% Caucasian, 12%
Hispanic, 4% Native American, and 3% Asian. Like the total U.S. population, the ethnic
makeup of homeless populations varies according to geographic location (U.S.
Department of Agriculture, 1996).
Although many Americans try to deny it, people who are without homes can be
found in all communities across the nation (Ward, 1995). Despite the prevalence of those
in need, there is considerable ambivalence in our country toward the homeless (Russell,
1991). One middle-class women made the following comment, "we Americans like our
charity donations to go to the starving in Africa. We don't want to see, face-to-face, pain
and suffering" (as quoted by Russell, p. 14). Moreover, "until recently, there has been
little public sympathy for those who 'chose' to be homeless: the homeless population was
thought to consist primarily of middle-aged, alcoholic men, and people who chose a
vagabond way of life" (Butler, 1994, p. xxi). This stereotype is a residual from the 1950s
and 1960s when the homeless population generally consisted of single, middle-aged men
who were intermittently employed, and were often chronic alcoholics (Kunstler, 1992).
In a 1989 national poll, 82% of the respondents believed that homelessness was the fault
of mental hospitals for releasing patients (Johnson, 1990). Furthermore, 90% of the
sample blamed drug and alcohol abuse for the problem of homelessness. These
sentiments are some of the reasons why the homeless population is generally thought of
as the "undeserving poor," that is, undeserving of public aid (Butler, xxii). Additionally
because of a "not in my backyard" attitude, the tendency to "ghettorize" the homeless is
one more device which removes them from the mainstream of society (Seltser & Miller,
In America the prevailing belief is that diligence pays off in the form of money,
status, power, or all three (Arrighi, 1997). As a result, many believe that the cause of
homelessness is laziness or lack of initiative. However, it has been shown in many
studies and reports (e.g., Greenberg & Baumohl, 1996; Mishel, Bernstein, & Schmitt,
1999; National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999c; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998;
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1998) that this is not the case.
While numerous people receiving assistance have worked at various jobs, many others
simply cannot find a job. The ratio of unemployed to available minimum wage jobs is
six to one (Arrighi). Furthermore, one of the fallacies surrounding the push to legislate
federal cuts to assistance is that only those without jobs are poor. The fact that at least 30
million people work full-time, year round, but are so poor they cannot afford life's basic
necessities has been ignored by politicians as well as experts (Arrighi). Thurow's (1995)
study revealed that about a third of all men between the ages of 25 and 34 do not earn
enough to keep a family of four out of poverty. Thus homelessness is not for lack of
work, nor for lack of trying.
Women's continued underpayment for work completed is a major factor behind
the growing feminization of poverty. Seager and Olson (1986) stated that poverty has
been disproportionately borne by women, especially those with children and by older
women. Employment statistics reveal that women are grouped in traditional "women's
jobs" which tend to be low-status, low-freedom, and low-salaried jobs (Henderson,
Bialeschki, Shaw, & Freysinger, 1996). Similarly, because of societal beliefs about
women's roles, employment opportunities for women have been confined to occupations
that are "appropriate" for women. These jobs include nursing, teaching, cleaning, and
clerical work, which are thought to reflect women's family roles (Henderson et al.). To
further complicate things, most women are locked into dead-end jobs with wages too low
to support themselves, let alone sustain a family (Ehrenreich, 1986). Most statistics in
the U.S. and Canada still suggest that women on average earn about $0.71 for every
$1.00 earned by men (Henderson et al.).
Though the number of homeless women and children is increasing, the
stereotypical homeless person is the "skid row bum"--a chronic alcoholic, white male
over the age of forty-five whose homelessness resulted from alcoholism and a long
history of disaffiliation (Arrighi; Kunstler, 1991). In the late 1970s and early 1980s there
was a shift in the homeless population to younger people, primarily nonwhite, and
increasingly more women and children (Arrighi). The "new" homeless are not a single
unified group, but are younger people who have been homeless for a long time.
Currently more women than ever before are homeless, and women head most of the
homeless single-parent families. This is due in large part to evictions, teen pregnancy,
and domestic violence (Arrighi; Kunstler).
In 1999, 21% of the homeless population were single adult women, and 33% were
families (Department of Children and Families, 1999). Vissing's (1996) recent evidence
indicated that homelessness among families was increasing. Families with children in 30
U.S. cities increased their requests for emergency shelter by an average of 15% between
1997-1998 (U.S. Conference of Mayors). Unfortunately, Worsnop (1996) estimated that
24% of requests for emergency shelter by homeless families go unmet each year.
However new the idea of the family as homeless is, the break-up of families due
to homelessness is a well-documented phenomenon. For example, in New York City,
60% of residents in shelters for single adults had children who were not with them; and in
Chicago, 54% of a combined street and shelter homeless sample were parents, but 91%
did not have children with them (Shinn & Weitzman, 1996). Reasons for not having their
children with them are regulations and laws that mandate children are to not be without
shelter. Therefore, if a parent with a child applies for shelter but no shelter is available,
the child may be placed in foster care. Relinquishing their children forces women to
separate themselves from a vital part of their identities, reinforcing their images of
themselves as failures (Russell, 1991). So to avoid family disintegration, parents, often
single mothers, devise a variety of solutions that include: (a) doubling up with family and
friends, (b) seeking hidden cars and abandoned buildings for shelter, (c) going to shelters
for battered women, (d) informally leaving children with family or friends; and (e)
voluntarily placing their children in foster care. As a result of these methods, Pearce
(1988) calls women and children the invisible homeless.
Statement of the Problem
Considering the growing number of people who are homeless, particularly the
increasing number of women and children who are homeless, more agencies are not only
focusing on providing shelter, but are realizing how important it is to assist the homeless
in reintegrating into society through leisure as well as work (Harrington & Dawson,
1997; Krinsky, 1992). All individuals want to find meaning as well as quality in their
lives (Henderson et al, 1996). One way to enhance quality of life is through leisure and
recreation. This can occur by providing opportunities to exercise all three elements of
escape often utilized by those who are homeless: will, agency, and affiliation (Harrington
& Dawson). Will is "the power of choosing one's own actions" (Macquarie University,
1995, p. 2000). Will, the desire to seize life, is a quality that cannot be underestimated.
Ferrill (1991) found that some people who were homeless were so beaten that their will
seemed to have vanished. Their spirits were broken; they had given up. He also noted
that a broken spirit could be the most devastating crippler of all. Agency refers to "the
actions of social actors in relating to the world and struggling to make their mark on it"
(Rojek, 1989, p. 72). An affiliation is "interacting with and connecting with others"
(Freysinger, 1995, p. 19). Agency and affiliation, caring for self and caring for others,
are themes in women's leisure (Henderson et al.). Rosenthal (1994) believed that to
retain the will, an individual must reject the label of "homeless" by redefining the self
and maintaining or rebuilding community ties. In other words, by realizing agency and
affiliation in their lives. Leisure is a nonthreatening medium for which these elements
can easily occur. Similar to this idea, Henderson et al., observed three important aspects
of the positive leisure experience: leisure as time for self, as affiliation or connection with
others, and as self-determination or autonomy. Therefore, leisure can provide a person
with a sense of purpose and of control over at least one aspect of their lives (Harrington
& Dawson) while connecting them with mainstream society, and thus give them meaning
and an enhanced quality of life. Since the experience of leisure may assist individuals in
coping with the changes and transitions that are a part of human development (Henderson
et al), it could be one of the most beneficial aspects of service to those who are homeless.
A general assumption seems to exist that leisure meanings are universal or are
consensually shared among individuals and among different social groups (Henderson et
al.). Homeless men tend to be more group oriented, whether drinking together, setting up
shantytowns, or even traveling together. By contrast, Russell noted that homeless women
tend to be loners. For example, most of the women in Klitzing's (2000) study preferred
to relax by themselves (e.g. reading, taking a bath, smoking a cigarette, listening to
music). Kleiber (2000) indicated that leisure starts with relaxation. As in other facets of
life, women may have a different reality (Schaef, 1981) or a different voice (Gilligan,
1982) than men in their perceptions of leisure (Henderson et al., 1996). "Just as there is a
wage gap between men and women in the workplace, there is a general 'leisure' gap
between them at home" (Hochschild, 1989, p. 4). Females generally participate less in
sports and physical activities than do males. This difference is especially true regarding
highly organized, competitive sports and sports that involve physical contact. Men
generally watch more sports on television and attend more sporting events as spectators
(Messner & Sabo, 1990). Researchers (i.e. Bella, 1989; Henderson et al.) suggest that
leisure has been a largely androcentric concept.
Women have not had the same opportunities for leisure because of the general
oppression they experienced (Henderson, 1994; Shaw, 1994). Shaw (1985) found that
women tend to have less leisure time than men as well as less resources for leisure.
Reports from service providers indicate that homelessness for women is different than
homelessness for men and that those differences can be explained on the basis of gender
(Russell). Gender roles and relationships shape women's behavior and opportunities. In
gendered societies women are oppressed, or at least disadvantaged, in most aspects of
their lives, including leisure (Henderson et al). Women's lives are influenced by an ethic
of care which evolves from women's dominant role or function of nurturing others
(Gilligan). Women who stay at home frequently work longer than their male partners,
have less leisure time available to them, no vacation, no sick leave, no pension, and no
salary (Henderson et al). When women, particularly from lower socioeconomic
backgrounds, enter the labor market, their leisure is reduced but they continue to bear the
major responsibility for work at home (Brock-Ute, 1985; Shaw, 1988). Women's sense
of themselves and their psychological well-being have been affected by this expected
caring role (Livson, 1981).
Women have been socialized to put family needs first and to feel that the role of
wife and mother is the primary expression of their femininity (Henderson et al). For
instance, Horna (1989) found that parents, especially mothers, often seek recreational
activities that children and parents can do together. Parents believe that shared family
activities help to build and maintain good connections among family members as well as
teaching positive values. Research has shown that family activities are highly valued by
women (e.g. Kelly & Kelly, 1994; Freysinger & Flannery, 1992; Horna). Even though
many women like to spend time alone, the social side of leisure and interacting with
others seems to be an important aspect of women's leisure enjoyment and satisfaction
(Freysinger & Flannery). Moreover, although many women report enjoyment in "doing
nothing," relaxing, or simply taking time for themselves (Freysinger, 1988; Henderson &
Bialeschki, 1991; Shaw, 1985), they repeatedly have financial hardships or full-time
responsibilities that hinder relaxation.
For mothers the need for leisure as relaxation is especially vital and often
incredibly problematic to achieve (Henderson et al). Moreover, Henderson et al stated
that of all the life course transitions affecting women, having the first child probably has
the most dramatic effect on leisure. Research suggested that women adapt or give up
interests more than men do after marriage and the birth of the first child (Bernard, 1984;
Bialeschki & Michener, 1994). For women, work and leisure domains did not even
approach the predominance of family as a preoccupation at all stages of the life cycle
(Horna, 1985; Kelly & Kelly, 1994; Shank, 1986). Horna went on to say that most
women preferred to engage in leisure activities with their spouse or other family
More specifically, single mothers often have immense difficulty finding both time
and space for relaxation (Streather, 1989). Additionally, Klitzing (2000) noted that of the
ten women in her study only one woman, a woman who does not have children or work,
stated she had free time. For the other women in the study who worked and had children
with them at the shelter, there was even less or no free time. Thus the study showed that
it cannot be assumed that women who are homeless have unlimited free time. In reality,
women with children, jobs, chores, and who live in a homeless shelter may have even
less free time than women who have traditionally been researched by leisure scholars.
Much of the research on the leisure participation of women has been the
collection of data on activities without looking at social or physical context (Henderson et
al, 1996). While there has been an abundance of books and scholarly articles written on
homelessness in the past twenty years, only a portion has been about women who are
homeless and even less about mothers who are homeless (Arrighi, 1997; Butler, 1994;
Jackson & Henderson, 1995). However, recently scholars have studied the strategies of
women who are homeless for taking their minds off their troubles. These strategies
include obtaining family support and focusing on activities like going to the park and
reading (Banyard, 1995). This is partly due to the fact that in the past, the homeless
population primarily consisted of older, single men. Butler observed that as a result, the
programs that were structured from the research had catered to men while ignoring the
needs of women.
Since little is known about the leisure of some groups of women, particularly
about women of color and women in low socioeconomic situations, a gap exists between
research and practice (Henderson et al). Henderson and Shaw (1994) noted that until the
past fifteen years, women were usually neglected in the study of leisure. For example,
leisure was defined in relation to the labor market where women were often not visible.
The assumption was that women related to leisure experiences in the same way as men
(Henderson et al). Moreover, much of the existing historical literature addresses the
leisure activities of women without looking at how women perceived those activities
(Henderson et al). Furthermore, our understanding of women, family, development, and
leisure is limited because white, heterosexual families have been the foci of most of the
leisure research (Bialeschki, Pearce, & Elloit, 1994; Stoller & Gibson, 1994; Vaz, 1995).
The difficulty of defining leisure for many women lies in the fact that leisure may not
occur in clearly demarcated blocks of time, in particular settings, or during particular
activities. For many women, leisure may be glimpsed in fleeting moments or may be
associated with social interactions in a variety of settings. In fact, Henderson et al
believed that some activities are not always experienced as leisure by women because of
their perceived responsibility for others. The limited research makes achieving solutions
for the problems of homeless women incredibly difficult to find. Feminist perspectives
must be tempered by the recognition that select characteristics cannot and should not be
generalized to all women. For example, lifestyles, life situations, and developmental
stages affect what women do with their time and energies (Henderson et al). But before
problems can be solved, we need to be sensitive enough to the problems that we generate
the will to find the solutions. "Often, if we do not feel the problem, if some emotional
response is not elicited, we are not moved to seek solutions. We are often too unmoved
to even recognize the questions" (Ferrill, 1991, p. ix).
Most of what is known about mothers who are homeless is the result of anecdotal
stories or cross-sectional demographic surveys (Butler). Dail (1990) suggested that the
task of developing theoretical outlooks regarding the leisure of people who are homeless
requires a more comprehensive understanding of the context of their lives. Since most of
the data is cross-sectional, little is known about how mothers cope with being homeless
and how leisure can improve their life situation. Thus the purpose of this study was to
explore the leisure behavior and needs of mothers who are homeless and investigate if
and how they use leisure to cope with their homelessness. By better understanding their
leisure needs, practitioners could tailor their services to this specific population.
This study is a replication and extension of Klitzing's (2000) master's thesis. She
noted various theories that supported her study. Feminist theory was coupled with
symbolic-interactionism, using grounded theory as the backdrop.
The basis of all feminist perspectives is the right to choose, whether it is when to
bear a child, or what to do with free time. Feminists see the confinement of women to
prescribed roles (e.g. housekeeper, primary childcare provider, nurturer in the workplace)
as a major deterrent to the realization of the goals of freedom of choice; they suggest that
women must be given a choice concerning the roles they will accept for themselves
(Henderson et al.). Issues of feminism relate directly to power relations. Power has
traditionally referred to "power-over" or domination (Henderson et al). For women,
empowerment means controlling one's life and body. Making women's lives visible was
the first major hurdle that feminist researchers had to confront. The first feminist
researchers saw and questioned assumptions about women's lives that had been hidden
through an androcentric focus on male patterns of behavior and experience. By
highlighting the male bias in traditional research, feminist scholars have challenged us to
find more inclusive theories that better describe the principal components of women's
lives and their leisure (Henderson et al). "The focus of feminism is on redefining the
value of women's lives by empowering individual women and by making women visible
in society. Feminism is a worldview that celebrates both differences and similarities
regardless of gender expectations and relations" (Henderson et al, 1996, p. 13)
Klitzing focused on feminist standpoint theory. It draws attention to the everyday
lives and experiences of women, particularly women who have been oppressed, excluded,
marginalized, or disenfranchised, as the starting place for research (Henderson et al).
Beginning at the point of view of marginalized women enables the researcher to see ideas
and concepts that might have previously been ignored or unseen, not only about those
specific groups, but also in dominant theories and paradigms (Harding, 1991).
Henderson (1998) wrote: "we must assume that people in under researched groups are
experts on their experiences and that we have much to learn from them" (p. 169).
Eichler (1980) noted that feminist research and writings center around issues of
inequality. She stated that
at its best, feminist writings fulfill three functions: it is critical of existent
social structures and ways to perceive them; it serves as a corrective
mechanism by providing an alternative viewpoint and data to substantiate
it; and it starts to lay the groundwork for a transformation of social science
and society. (p.9)
Feminists vary greatly in their issues and the approaches they take to addressing
problems. But all aspects of feminist ethics seek to acknowledge, justify, and explain the
experiences of women (Henderson et al). Feminism is the belief that all people should be
treated as human beings independent of categorical judgments based on such aspects as
sex and gender roles, race, class, and sexual orientation (Henderson et al). As a
philosophy, feminism challenges the typical views about everyday reality (Henderson et
al). The three goals they hope to achieve through their challenges are: "the correction of
both the invisibility and distortion of female experience in ways relevant to social
change; the right of every women to equity, dignity, and freedom of choice through the
power to control her own life and body within and outside the home; and the removal of
all forms of inequality and oppression in society" (Henderson et al, p. 74). Bunch (1985)
adds that freedom from oppression for women involves not only equity, but also the right
of women to the freedom of choice and the power to control their own lives. Most
feminists try to bring women and men together in a collective resistance to gender-based
oppression (Warhol, 1995).
Freedom and revolt against domination are central to both leisure and feminism;
both have goals to encourage choices and lead to empowerment (Henderson et al). At the
core of leisure are elements of choice and freedom (Carpenter, 1985; Henderson, 1986).
Shaw (1994) has argued that the dominant feminist approach to research on women's
leisure has been in search of an understanding regarding the constraints of women's
leisure as a result of gender relations and experiences. She also observed some new
theories that are emerging; for example, the way that leisure activities reinforce or
reproduce structured gender relations and, alternatively, how leisure may sometimes be
seen as a form of resistance to those power relations.
Gender relations represent the product of men's power over women, individually
and collectively, in both public and home-based institutions (Henderson et al).
Henderson et al purports that gender dominance theory can help explain why women
have had fewer opportunities for leisure because of how women subordinate their needs
for others and defer to the wishes of men, similar to ethic of care. When using gender
theory, "interpretations need to show how some women's experiences and/or men's
experiences lead individuals to make choices contingent on contexts and relationships,
not just because they are biologically female or male" (Henderson et al p. 91). Gender
refers to cultural expectations of behavior and assumptions related to biological sex.
When biological sex is determined at birth, various cultural expectations are immediately
associated with that child. Therefore, one's biological sex directs a lifetime of
relationships and expectations solely based on gender. Further, gender is a continuous
process and not an inborn biological trait. Thus, Henderson (1994) asserts that "gender is
a set of socially constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed relations that are produced
and reproduced through people's actions" (p. 17). Gender is reflected in the cultural
norms and societal structures that relate to participation, perceived benefits, or constraints
to leisure (Henderson et al).
Symbolic-interactionist theory attempts to understand society and social structure
through an examination of the micro-level, personal, day-to-day interactions of people as
individuals, pairs, or groups (Denzin, 1992; Henderson, 1991; Newman, 1997). Daily
interactions take place within a world of symbolic communication, influenced by the
larger context of a group or society (Newman). This theory purports that individuals act
toward things or symbols based on meanings these things have for them. These
meanings are socially constructed and are derived from social interactions. It is assumed
that individuals create the world of experience they live in and that an individual is the
final authority of subjective experience (Blumer, 1969). In fact, most human behavior is
determined not by the objective facts of a given situation but by the subjective meanings
people attach to it (Weber, 1947). Cooley (1902) referred to this process as acquisition of
the looking-glass self. He noted that people use the behaviors of others toward
themselves as mirrors in which they see themselves. So if people perceive a child to be
smart and treat the child in that way, the child will believe that he or she is a smart person
(Newman). Moreover, "how the child-as-named-object is defined by others is linked to
larger societal considerations" (Newman, p. 136). Every culture has its own way of
identifying individuals at various stages of the life cycle, as well as having its own
standards of beauty and success. Thus life is complex and full of hidden meanings.
Rubin and Rubin (1995) noted that interpretive research recognizes the complexity of
human life and seeks rich, thick descriptions of them in order to explain meaning.
Grounded theory methods and procedures are currently among the most
influential and widely used methods of conducting qualitative research when the
researcher's primary aim is to generate theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1997). Grounded
theory seeks out an emerging theoretical understanding that is grounded in the real lives
and worlds of the people or phenomenon being studied. In addition, Creswell (1998)
asserts that the purpose of grounded theory is to generate or discover theory by reserving
theoretical ideas to allow a "substantive" theory to transpire. Grounded theory focuses on
how individuals interact in relation to the experience under study. A plausible relation is
then proposed between the concepts and sets of concepts being studied. Glaser and
Strauss (1967) advocated that a researcher should begin with a general subject or problem
devised only in terms of a general disciplinary perspective. This is an inductive approach
where theory is the end point rather than the starting point of a study. Thus, creation of
the theory is based on observation rather than deduction (Glaser & Strauss).
Thus, using a feminist philosophy and symbolic-interactionism as guiding
principles, this study will seek to develop a grounded theory of leisure in the lives of
mothers who are homeless.
The following questions will guide this study:
1. How do mothers who are homeless experience leisure?
2. In what ways do the mothers' present living conditions influence their leisure?
3. What barriers or constraints to leisure do mothers who are homeless experience?
4. How does leisure affect coping with being homeless?
Homelessness has been called a vexing social problem (Toro, 1999) and a near
epidemic that few American cities escape (Wright, 1989). The majority of people
unfamiliar with the problems of homelessness tend to believe that to be homeless means
to live in the streets, but homelessness is much more complex than that (Russell, 1991).
People who are homeless have been defined and categorized in a variety of ways. To
better understand those who are homeless, we must first define "home." Home has been
represented as a series of binary opposites: as a place of rest after a journey, as a private
retreat from the public world, and as a familiar and secure space within a strange and
insecure world (Wardhaugh, 1999). The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1991) defines the
home as the place where one lives; a dwelling-house; the members of a family
collectively; the native land of a person or a person's ancestor's; an institution for
person's needing care, rest, or refuge; the place where a thing originates or is most
common. Thus, Wardhaugh asserted, the home is understood not only as a physical
arrangement or space, but also as an expression of social meanings and identities.
According to Klitzing (2000), although the shelter for the homeless had positive
components, it was not necessarily perceived as "home" by the women in her study.
Only half the women called the shelter "home." However, these women also called it a
shelter and very infrequently called it "home." "Home" seemed to be used as a colloquial
term for a place or dwelling rather than the traditional meaning.
Converse to definitions of home are definitions ofhomelessness. According to
the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1994, a person is considered homeless who
lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence and has a
primary night time residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately
operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations ...
(B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals
intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not
designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for
human beings. (42 U.S.C. 11302(a))
However, the term "'homeless individual' does not include any individual imprisoned or
otherwise detained pursuant to an Act of Congress or a state law" (42 U.S.C. 11302(c)).
The McKinney definition of homelessness serves large, urban communities, where tens
of thousands of people are literally homeless. However, the definition is problematic for
those persons who are homeless in areas of the country, such as rural areas, where there
are few shelters. People experiencing homelessness in these areas are less likely to live
on the street or in a shelter, and more likely to live with relatives in overcrowded or
substandard housing (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999b).
Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development similarly
defined homelessness as "a condition of being without a regular dwelling place whereby
a person or family lives outside on the streets, has tried to find a public or private shelter
at night or sleeps in a makeshift dwelling such as a car or train station" (Francis, 1987, p.
230). Obviously people without a home still seek shelter in any conceivable fashion, so
an accurate count of the homeless population is difficult to ascertain.
Once homelessness was defined, people who are homeless could be categorized.
A multitude of researchers have attempted to group people who are homeless. For
example, Francis (1987) divided them into six sub-groups: (a) people who are
employable but laid off without further job training and those who are earning a
minimum wage but cannot afford housing, (b) people who are seriously mentally
disabled and are without adequate housing, (c) people with substance abuse problems and
are without adequate housing, (d) people who are physically disabled, many of whom are
veterans and are without adequate housing, (e) the poor elderly, and (f) people who are
who are antisocial or "street people."
Though people who are homeless can be grouped into categories, there is some
fluctuation between degrees ofhomelessness. Belcher, Scholler-Jaquish and Drummond
(1991) identified three stages ofhomelessness: (a) "marginal" refers to people who live
near or below poverty line and are often forced to share overcrowded accommodations or
must rely on friends or family to put them up on a temporary basis; (b) "recently
homeless" refers to people who are homeless within last few months and still the view
situation as temporary; and (c) "chronic" refers to people who have been without a home
for a year or more and have come to accept their life on the streets as the norm.
Due to the multitude of methodologies for defining and categorizing, no one
knows how many people are really without homes in the United States. Estimates range
from 324,000 (Jencks, 1994) to two million (National Alliance to end Homelessness,
1995). The US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there are
three times as many people who are homeless than those known to agencies. For
example, people living in unstable housing arrangements, such as doubling up with
friends, are experiencing a kind ofhomelessness, but because they are not "literally
homeless," they are not counted (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999a). Baxter
and Hopper (1981) suggest discretion when interpreting statistics. They argue:
Any attempt to gauge the actual number of homeless people in a given
area is subject to a myriad of difficulties. The estimates that do surface
from time to time are notoriously unreliable, subject to wild discrepancies
depending upon the methods of estimation used, the source of the figures,
the time of the year, and we strongly suspect, the purpose for which the
numbers are put forth. The kinds of living arrangements defined as
"homeless" may also vary considerably, adding a further element of
uncertainty, and making historical and cross regional comparisons
hazardous. (p. 8)
As a result of methodological and financial constraints, most studies are limited to
counting people who are literally homeless-that is, in shelters or on the streets. While
this approach may yield useful information about the number of people who use services
such as shelters and soup kitchens, or who are easy to locate on the streets, it can result in
underestimates of homelessness (National Coalition for the Homeless).
As noted before, many homeless people are not counted because they are not in
places researchers can easily find. This group of people, often referred to as "the
unsheltered" or "hidden" homeless, frequently stay in automobiles, camp grounds, or
other places not easily accessible to researchers. For instance, a national study of
formerly homeless people found that the most common places people who had been
literally homeless stayed were vehicles (59.2%) and makeshift housing (24.6%), such as
tents, boxes, caves, or boxcars (Link, 1995). This suggests that homeless statistics may
miss significant numbers of people who are literally homeless, as well as those living in
Homelessness in Florida
In 1999, the total homeless population in Florida was estimated to be 57, 417
(Department of Children & Families, 1999). Florida had 177 permanent shelters with
7,148 beds, but these shelters were only able to meet approximately 8% of the need
(Department of Children & Families). There were also 299 transitional housing facilities
with 10,576 beds, but some counties had neither shelters nor transitional housing
facilities, though they did have people who were homeless.
Of the 57,417 homeless, roughly one-third were families, and one-fifth were
single females. In addition, more than half had been homeless for less than one year, and
73% report to be state residents and thus not migratory. They experienced a variety of
problems including alcoholism and/or drug abuse (37%); mental illness (23%); health
problems (43%); AIDS or HIV (8%); and disabilities (16%). The state's homeless
population also varied ethnically. The Department of Children and Families reported that
slightly more than half were Caucasian, one-third were African-American, and one-tenth
To better compare the state of Florida with national statistics, Table 2-1 from the
US Census Bureau (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12000.html) is located below.
Table 2-1 National versus local homelessness statistics
US Census Bureau Data (2000) Florida USA
Population, 2000 15,982,378 281,421,906
Persons under 18 years old, percent, 2000 22.8% 25.7%
Persons 65 years old and over, percent, 2000 17.6% 12.4%
White persons, percent, 2000 (a) 78.0% 75.1%
Black or African American persons, percent, 2000 (a) 14.6% 12.3%
American Indian and Alaska Native persons, percent, 2000 (a) 0.3% 0.9%
Asian persons, percent, 2000 (a) 1.7% 3.6%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2000 (b) 16.8% 12.5%
Female persons, percent, 2000 51.2% 50.9%
Housing units, 2000 7,302,947 115,904,641
Homeownership rate, 2000 70.1% 66.2%
Persons per household, 2000 2.46 2.59
Households with persons under 18, percent, 2000 31.3% 36.0%
Persons below poverty, percent, 1997 model-based estimate 14.4% 13.3%
Children below poverty, percent, 1997 model-based estimate 21.8% 19.9%
Causes of Homelessness
The variety of ways people find shelter pale in comparison to the plethora of
causes for seeking shelter. Each person who is homeless has a unique story of events that
led to their current situation of homelessness. There are a myriad of reasons for people to
be without a home, or on the brink of becoming homeless. Societal changes can result in
a greater risk of becoming homeless. Butler (1994, p. xxiii) summarized Hopper and
Hamberg's (1984) societal trends that led to an increase in the number of people who
1. Changing occupational composition of the U.S. labor force, resulting in many
middle-income jobs being replaced by low-income jobs;
2. High divorce rate and the growth of female-headed households which are
more likely to be impoverished than male-headed households;
3. High levels of unemployment with reductions in Unemployment Insurance
4. Erosion of the real value of benefits in means-tested income maintenance
programs, leaving recipients even less able to afford basic necessities than
they were 15 years ago.
Many other factors can cause homelessness. In 1988, it was estimated that six
million Americans were constantly at risk of becoming homeless due to the
disproportional amount of total income they needed to devote to housing (Dreier & Atlas,
1989). However, in the research there were various causal trends that led to
homelessness, including: poverty, shortage of affordable housing, alcoholism and drug
abuse, mental illness, family disintegration, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, runaway
youth, migration and immigration, school failure and illiteracy, AIDS and other
disabilities, jail or prison release, lack of public transportation, lack of affordable day
care, free will, job loss, elimination of government entitlement programs, gentrification
and urban renewal, relocation, tightened eligibility standards for supplemental
government services, and eviction (e.g. Arrighi, 1997; Belluck, 2001; Federal Task Force
on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, 1992; National Coalition for the Homeless,
1999c; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998). The following were noted as being more
causal of homelessness: lack of affordable housing, declining wages, mental illness,
addiction, and domestic abuse.
Despite the myriad of reasons for homelessness, two trends are primarily
responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15-20 years: a growing shortage of
affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty due to declining
employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce (National Coalition for the
Homeless, 1999c). The shrinking supply of affordable housing is a key factor underlying
the growth in family homelessness. In 1998, the disparity between the number of
affordable housing units and the number of people needing them was the largest to date,
estimated at 4.4 million units (Daskal, 1998). Ferrill (1991) noted that various women
were disappointed to learn that their inability to find low-cost housing was not a
reflection of their house-hunting capabilities, but a reflection of society's housing
priorities. Part of the problem began in the 1980s when federal housing programs were
cut by 80%, from $33 billion to less than $8 billion (Arrighi, 1997). The reality of the
housing crisis has been particularly devastating for poor families with children. These
families represent 40% of the households with "worst case housing needs", those renters
with incomes below 50% of the area median income who are involuntarily displaced, pay
more than half of their income for rent and utilities, or live in substandard housing (U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1998). However, if they are fortunate
enough to attain housing, they are often only an accident, illness, or paycheck away from
becoming homeless. In fact, in 1998, a person receiving Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits had to spend 69% of his or her SSI monthly income to rent a one-bedroom
apartment at Fair Market Rent; and in more than 125 housing market areas, the cost of a
one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent was more than a person's total monthly SSI
income (Technical Assistance Collaborative & the Consortium for Citizens with
Disabilities Housing Task Force, 1999). The cost of housing alone would leave precious
little or no resources for childcare, health needs, or even food. Obviously, some form of
subsidy is required for those near or below the poverty level.
Since many poor people cannot afford housing, they attempt to receive
government help. This was supported by Shinn and Weitzman's (1998) recent
longitudinal study of poor and homeless families in New York City. Eighty percent of
formerly homeless families who received subsidized housing remained stably housed (i.e.
they lived in their own residence for the previous 12 months). In contrast, only 18% of
the families who did not receive subsidized housing were stable at the end of the study.
One such subsidy, until it was repealed in August 1996, was the Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the largest cash assistance program for poor
families with children. Between 1970 and 1994, each state's AFDC benefits for a family
of three decreased by an average of 47%, after adjusting for inflation (Greenberg &
Baumohl, 1996). Moreover, fewer than half of the eligible families received Aid to
Families with Dependent Children and the poorest families were least likely to take
advantage of this federally funded program (Arrighi, 1997).
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
(the federal welfare reform law) repealed the AFDC program and replaced it with a block
grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Current TANF
benefits and Food Stamps combined are below the poverty level in every state; in fact,
the median TANF benefit for a family of three is approximately one-third of the poverty
level. The reality is that only about one-third of poor renter households receive a housing
subsidy from the federal, state, or a local government (Daskal, 1998) and even that
subsidy is not guaranteed. In Ferrill's (1991) study on homelessness, she noted that
"Jackie was jubilant when she got her [Section 8] certificate, only to be angered and
dismayed to find that most landlords reject Section 8 certificate-holders because they are
viewed as problematic, since the landlord then has to deal with the government and its
bureaucracy to collect the rent" (p. 111).
One option for housing used to be single room occupancies (SROs). SROs were a
ready housing resource for poor people. However, Ferrill explained that city-promoted
tax incentives enticed developers to convert those buildings into luxury units or simply
demolish them. Furthermore, since the landlords know they can rent out their rooms
whether or not they maintain the building, most of the lingering SROs are in deplorable
condition. For example, they offer rooms with inadequate heat (or none at all),
unsanitary living conditions with mice, rat, and roach infestations, crumbling walls,
faulty plumbing, and poor security (Ferrill).
As mentioned above, declining wages have made housing an unreal option for
many workers. For example, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (1998)
reported that more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom
apartment at Fair Market Rent in every state. In fact, in the coalition's study a minimum-
wage worker would have to work 87 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment
at 30% of his or her income which is the federal definition of affordable housing.
Although there has been an increase in real wages at every level, this growth has
not been enough to offset a long pattern of stagnant and declining wages (National
Coalition for the Homeless, 1999c). Various factors contributed to the wage decline: the
degeneration in the number and bargaining power of unionized workers; the declining
value of minimum wage; a waning in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding
expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment; globalization; and increased
nonstandard work, such as temporary and part-time employment (Mishel, Bernstein, &
Schmitt, 1999). As a result, the real value of the minimum wage in 1997 was 18.1% less
than in 1979 (Mishel, Bernstein, & Schmitt). In a survey of 30 U.S. cities, it was
revealed that almost one in five homeless persons was employed (U.S. Conference of
Mayors, 1998), but their wages could not support them. Since four in five homeless are
unemployed, general unemployment rates would seem high. However, the reported
unemployment rates do not portray the entire picture as they exclude discouraged
workers who are no longer seeking work, as well as those who have returned to lower
paying jobs, or often part-time jobs (Arrighi, 1997; Karger & Stoesz, 1990).
Moreover, it was noted earlier that the number of female-headed, impoverished
households has been increasing. In the U.S. women are 30% more likely than men to be
poor. This is in large part due to the well-documented fact that in the U.S. labor market,
men are likely to see open career paths where women see restricted roads (Newman,
1997). Thus women would have fewer opportunities to gain the financial means to set up
Partly due to deinstitutionalization (Bachrach, 1987; Institute of Medicine, 1988;
Wright, 1988), roughly 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some
form of severe and persistent mental illness (Koegel, 1996; Levine & Rog, 1990).
Additionally, mental illnesses such as depression and psychopathy are thought to be more
prevalent among homeless women (Gilchrist, 1990). However, only 5-7% of homeless
persons with mental illness require institutionalization; most are able to live in the
community with the appropriate supportive housing options (Federal Task Force on
Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, 1992).
Unfortunately, many homeless persons with mental illness are unable to obtain
access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. If a child needs protection
and support, she or he is bound by law to get it until reaching childhood. However, in-
need adults are given the "right" to care for themselves but few resources to do so
(Ferrill, 1991). From a system that was once accused of unnecessarily locking people up,
it has evolved to a point where liberty is heralded as the definitive honor. But without the
supports allowing that freedom, "'freedom' often becomes an unwitting straitjacket of a
different cloth" (Ferrill, p. 76), impeding the acquisition of such basic needs as housing.
Surveys of homeless populations conducted during the 1980s reported high rates
of addiction, particularly among single men; however, recent research has questioned the
validity of those studies (Koegel). The studies that indicated high prevalence rates vastly
over represented long-term shelter users and single men, besides focusing on lifetime
rather than current measures of addiction. While there is no generally accepted "magic
number" with respect to the prevalence of addiction disorders among homeless adults, the
frequently cited figure of about 65% is probably at least double the real rate for current
addiction disorders among all single adults who are homeless in a given year (National
Coalition for the Homeless, 1999b). Although the actual number of substance abusers
among those who are homeless is unknown, it is thought that alcoholism is more
prevalent among homeless men (Gilchrist, 1990). Moreover, the National Coalition for
the Homeless approximated that 50% of homeless persons who are mentally ill have a
substance abuse problem.
Causes Specific to Women
The traditional concepts of home are based on assumptions of a white, middle
class and heterosexual nuclear family (Passaro, 1996; Wagner, 1993). However, the
comfort and safety that notion portrays ensures that the widespread nature of violence
within families is overlooked (Sibley, 1995; Sennett, 1996). Additionally, 46% of the
cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (1998) identified domestic violence as
a primary cause ofhomelessness. Seager and Olson (1986) believed it is possible that
domestic violence stems from the idea that women are men's property and that girls are
less valuable than boys.
In a study of 777 homeless parents (the majority of whom were mothers) in ten
U.S. cities, nearly one in five said they had left their last place of residence because of
domestic violence (Homes for the Homeless, 1998 as cited by the National Homeless
Coalition, 1999c). However, when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she often has
nowhere to go, especially considering the lack of affordable housing and long waiting
lists for assisted housing. There are facilities and shelters available for abused women,
but the support for victims of domestic violence is inadequate when compared with the
need (Bachrach, 1987; Institute of Medicine, 1988; Wright, 1988).
Loss of the breadwinner
One of the most economically deprived groups in North America are single
parents. The great majority of single parents are women, and the majority of them live
below the poverty line (Shaw, 1994). Quite often, women who are homeless lose their
financial support when a husband or boyfriend abandons them. Women who are
homeless often note that it was the leaving of a male and his financial support that
resulted in their homelessness (Russell, 1991). Russell explains that the pain and trauma
of separation from a partner, combined with finding oneself homeless, can be
overwhelming. To worsen the situation, often women who are alone (without a partner
and/or without a home) are perceived as violating a gender-role norm and are thus judged
as deserving their plight (Golden, 1992). However, if a woman stays in an abusive
relationship where she is at least guaranteed shelter, she is seen as dependent or ignorant
and elicit feelings of pity and disapproval from the general public. Regardless of the life
situation, women have typically and traditionally been expected to have the home as the
stage and setting for their lives (Henderson, Bialeschki, Shaw, & Freysinger, 1996).
Perhaps the most striking feature about the increase of women in poverty is that
they are largely people who were not born into poverty, but were instead forced into it by
unemployment, illness, and especially divorce (Sidel, 1986). Divorce often leaves women
and children in financial disaster. However, divorce may also increase women's options
and allow them an escape from unhappy and even abusive relationships (Seager & Olson,
1986). However, women who do not marry or become widowed or divorced are often
viewed as failures. If women are on their own but do not work to support their family,
they are seen as lazy, although, if they work they are stigmatized as being uncommitted
to family values (Arrighi, 1997). Therefore, how a woman decides to live her life is often
a series of difficult choices ill-favored by society.
Services to People Who Are Homeless
To combat these calamities, shelters have been offering health care, employment
counseling, parenting classes and other social services, in addition to supplying food
(Harrington & Dawson, 1997). Moreover, Burt and Cohen (1989) found that over half of
the shelters they surveyed offered some form of recreational services. For example,
Jendaya, as quoted in Klitzing's (2000) study, noted,
It's really interesting- now that I have been living at the houseless shelter,
I have actually been able to go and experience Black women' s
achievement dinners and certain concerts and musicals and maybe benefits
or fund-raisers. I have been able to go out and about and do things
socially as a guest of people and with complimentary passes and tickets
because I have lived at the shelter, and I almost feel like I am cheating or
Most shelters try to involve homeless adults and youth in the planning and running of
programs as suggested by Ward (1992). Although shelter rules in the past tended to
discourage children's play, youth recreational activities and adult leisure (Rosenthal, &
Stein, 1990), several approaches to recreation and leisure provision have been developed
for people who are homeless: leisure education, leisure as socialization, community based
recreation, and therapeutic recreation (Harrington & Dawson).
A large part of the recent enhancement of services is due to the Stewart B.
McKinney Homeless Assistance Act (1987). This act provided the first federal funds
targeted specifically at addressing the health, education, and welfare needs of the
homeless population (Department of Children and Families, 1999). The authorized
services include: outreach services; prevention; emergency shelter; intensive long-term
case management; mental health treatment; staffing and operation of supportive living
programs; transitional and supported housing; permanent housing for those with
disabilities; health care; alcohol and drug abuse treatment; child and youth education; job
training; veteran's reintegration; and management and administrative activities designed
to link together services (Levine & Rog, 1990). Obviously, this act encompasses support
for a majority of the needs arising from homelessness.
However, when shelters are available, people are often unwilling to stay in them.
The reasons vary, including privacy, strict rules, pride, physical dangers, and insecurity
(Seltser & Miller, 1993). For example Hazel, quoted by Klitzing, stated, "I like to be
gone because there is too many conflicts in here with the other people that live here" (p.
109). Another problem mentioned in Klitzing's study was the rules. When the women
moved into the shelter, they agreed to comply with 14 pages of rules, and five more pages
of rules if they had children who lived with them, in order to acquire a room. Four of the
women spoke about the rules and how the rules influenced what could and could not be
done, and when things had to be done. In addition to the sheer number of rules, the rules
controlled critical aspects of a woman's life, such as when she could have visitors and
how she could discipline her children. Ilana and Hazel were especially unhappy with the
rules. As Ilana observed, "but, we all trying to adjust to this house because there's so
many rules and the kids gotta be in bed at a certain time and all of that. Other than that, I
am getting along. I am getting by--taking each day as it comes" (p.105). Furthermore,
I don't like it. It's not a comfortable situation for me or my kids. You are
not allowed to discipline your children in a way that I feel my child needs
to be disciplined. She is very rambunctious and hyper and she needs extra
attention when it comes to discipline... you can [do the things that they
want you to do] at your own pace and how you want to do it at your own
home. You don't have a set time that you have to clean this and clean that
and do things. I think that is very stressful because that's not how a
normal household runs. But, I can understand why if you don't have time-
and it probably wouldn't get done around here. There is a lot of lazy
people that would rather live in dirt then clean up after themselves.
Despite the McKinney Act, most shelters provide few services, and shelter
residents often complain about their need for more job training, personal counseling,
assistance in seeking a permanent place to live, and child care (Seltser & Miller).
However, unless major changes occur during their shelter stay, people's lives are unlikely
to be very different when they leave. It is not the fault of the shelters, as the task of
remaking a life cannot be accomplished in a few weeks. But Seltser and Miller noted that
it is a depressing reality of the shelter system that so few opportunities exist for people to
use their shelter time to turn a life of chaos and confusion into a more stable and
Impact of Homelessness
Arrighi (1997) suggested that basic needs are emphasized and attended to first in
shelters. However, social service providers are beginning to realize that the temporary,
episodic as well as long term users of shelters need access to experiences that enrich their
daily lives and provide some measure of stability and self-esteem while they endure or
struggle with their condition (Harrington & Dawson, 1997). Harrington and Dawson
state that in the very least, recreation activities for people who are homeless serve to
occupy their free time and provide opportunities for social interaction among their peers.
In support of this idea a shelter volunteer said "nothing is worse on the human spirit than
doing nothing" (quoted by Rosenthal, 1994, p.160). Furthermore, for most homeless
women who have found shelter, times can stretch interminably throughout the day,
interrupted only by meals (Russell, 1991). The major reason that time hangs so heavily
for homeless women is that without money options are limited. Once a woman visits her
social worker and qualifies for her monthly checks, she has little to do to fill her time,
unless she has to take care of a child.
People experiencing homelessness have certain shared basic needs, including
affordable housing, adequate incomes, and health care. Some homeless people may need
additional services such as mental health or drug treatment in order to remain securely
housed (Department of Children and Families, 1999). Other noted needs are job training
with placement, adequate nutrition, transportation, and coordinated health, education, and
social services. In a 1999 study conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban
Development, program staff observed the top three needs of their clients as being a needs
assessment, assistance with obtaining food, and development of individual goals. The
next five categories were seen as life skills, case management, housing, employment, and
general health care.
One of the greatest specialized needs that surfaced in the homelessness research is
the desire for normalcy (Butler, 1994). Most of the people who are homeless want to
maintain pride, have a sense of being in control, and feel hope that their lives will
improve (Harrington & Dawson), as well as having a sense of dignity (Seltser & Miller,
1993). As Austin (1997) noted, each person has a need to grow and realize his or her full
potential, and the individuals in this population are no different.
Nonetheless, feeling "normal" can be difficult if you feel ostracized by the
majority of society. In a society that measures individual worth in terms of occupational
achievement and accumulated wealth, feelings of self-worth tend to be based on one's
ability to amass and consume material goods (Newman, 1997). Having a low-paying job
and being unable to afford housing can be demoralizing. Rosenthal (1994) noted that it is
hard to be labeled as homeless and to be robbed of your rights due to that association.
Newman stated, "that identity is our most essential and personal characteristic" (p. 120).
People who are homeless wish to be seen not as homeless people, but as individuals.
Preferably, they wish to be seen as individuals with talents and skills. As a result,
homeless people engage in a range of identity work in an effort to "salvage the self'
(Snow & Anderson, 1993). In Klitzing's study, Jendaya, a 52 year-old Caucasian who
had been in college, described her life at the shelter, discussing the impact of stigma on
women who are homeless. She noted that all the women feel stigma, even if they cannot
talk about it. Jendaya felt there was shame in being houselesss", the word she used
instead of "homeless." She observed that people regard a person differently upon
learning the person lives in a shelter. In fact, Ferrill (1991) noted that "homeless" was
a label that obscured the core reality ... It was the label that distanced me
psychologically; the label gave me the illusion that they were somehow
different from me, that I could be removed. The label could only obscure
our shared humanity if there were no human contact between us. Contact
shattered the myth of difference by holding up a mirror of humanity. (p.
Therefore, integrating people who are homeless with people who have homes would
facilitate the debunking of stereotypes and shattering myths.
Often a result of being stigmatized is social isolation. Disaffiliation is an
important aspect of research on homeless women. Samdahl (1992) wrote that social
interaction is a large part of everyday, common leisure. Disaffiliation, or lack of social
affiliation or interaction, has been noted as a major indicator of homelessness (Bahr,
1968) and a defining characteristic of homelessness (Grunberg & Eagle, 1990). Women
in the mainstream of American life develop a network of social structures and have a
well-defined set of roles. American females are conditioned to be wives and mothers.
Additionally, they are expected to be members of voluntary associations such as the PTA,
charitable organizations, and church groups. Women are held responsible for
maintaining the social network within the family as well as within the neighborhood and
community (Russell, 1991). Gilligan (1982) observed that women see themselves in
relationship to their connection with others. This can explain why many homeless
women, some of whom have left even their connection with their children behind, are
filled with such negative feelings about themselves (Russell). Many of the women in the
emergency shelters will talk to one another, but they do not stay in the shelter long
enough to become friends (Russell). Thus, as Henderson et al (1996) asserted, women
who are poor face different leisure gaps than women gainfully employed in professional
jobs. Since they dislike their lives as homeless women, they cling to the fringes of the
mainstream. Russell believed it was for this reason that "they attempted to create a
semblance of home with the mementos that they had brought with them" (p. 82). Even
so, the women in Klitzing's study seemed to be more affiliated than had previously been
noted in the homeless literature. They were more similar to the women in Banyard's
(1995) study (as noted by Klitzing) who used social supports to help them cope with
homelessness. Klitzing also noted that leisure can play a role in maintaining social
supports or community connections for women who are homeless.
Seltser and Miller (1993) suggested that we are all more dependent on one
another, and on the social institutions we both create and are born into, than we often care
to admit. It is this sense of shared commonality with other people that is undermined so
firmly and devastatingly by the condition of homelessness (Seltser & Miller).
Rodeheaver (1987) maintained that women's lives are defined by interdependence.
Circumstances of dependence have been created for these groups, however, by social
policy. At the same time, U.S. culture denigrates dependence and values independence
(Henderson et al).
On another note, many of those who are homeless, especially those living in a
shelter, have noted feelings of powerlessness and an extrinsic locus of control (Arrighi,
1997). All ten of the women in Klitzing's study spoke about the difficulties of living in a
shelter. For example, staying in a shelter interferes with a mother's role by increasing her
feelings of incompetency about her familial role (Hausman & Hammen, 1993). The
literature on homelessness has previously documented that the extensive rules, which are
found in most shelters, control the women's lives and provide structure for communal
living. Therefore, their lives at the shelter are scheduled and dictated to them. Although
rules were discussed by the women in Klitzing's study, chores seemed to more fully
structure the women's lives. Only Fogel (1994) has discussed the impact of chores on the
lives of women who are homeless. In addition, women, demoralized under poverty and
often isolated from their partners, must carry the burden of parenting alone, "while under
the watchful eye of strangers who the women believe control their fate" (Arrighi, p. 51).
Often this perspective results in feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and/or depression.
Moreover, the longer it takes to find permanent housing for a family, the greater the
chances that symptoms of mental depression will be manifested in the women and
children (Arrighi). As evidenced, though shelters are beneficial, they can be harmful as
Newman stated that to survive in this world of perceived failure and self-blame,
people who are homeless must somehow defend themselves and restore dignity and value
to their lives. Upon entering a shelter a person is often struck with the loss of autonomy
that is so apparent (Seltser & Miller). Many aspects of shelter life represent
disappointments and threats to their dignity though the shelters provide a needed haven
and social support (Seltser & Miller). Living in such close proximity creates tensions and
problems. Many difficulties have evolved around interactions between women living
together in a shelter, as well as between the women and the staff. Attitudes have been
blamed for many of the problems (Klitzing).
The more that is uncovered about the experiences of these families, the greater the
realization of the multitude of ways in which shelter life continually undermines
independence and self-esteem. For example, when phones are placed in public places,
people cannot have a private phone conversation with a friend, relative, or potential
employer (Seltser & Miller). The result is an undermining of any sense of privacy and
autonomy that is essential for them to achieve the conditions necessary to move on with
their own, and their family's, lives (Seltser & Miller, 1993). One common result of the
loss of autonomy is a sense of passivity. Since life has become a series of things
happening to them; they are no longer decision-makers (Seltser & Miller) and thus feel
helpless. They might become passive because they do not need to act or because they are
tired of acting. However, passivity appears to be the most logical response to living in a
world they feel they can no longer fathom or affect (Seltser & Miller).
Furthermore, the loss of a home robs them of the physical protection and privacy
with its associated secure and autonomous existence. A desire for protection is often
expressed in terms of the longing to have a "roof over our head", or a haven for dealing
with the world (Seltser & Miller). Evidently the loss of a home can be a severe blow to a
person's dignity. According to Seltser and Miller, the central belief of dignity is that
there is some inherent worth in all persons, and this fact requires certain sorts of
responses from others. They go on to state that even though dignity denotes an inner
worth, dignity "is both internally experienced and externally validated" (p. 96). When
speaking of treating someone with dignity, it refers to a willingness to acknowledge that
the person has feelings, needs, wants, capacities, and the ability to be affected by what is
done to them and how people respond to them (Seltser & Miller). For example, Ferrill
(1991) was infuriated by a case manager's display of disgust at an individual who was
homeless. Ferrill wondered what daily encounters with people who act repulsed must do
to a person's sense of pride and self-image. She thought that if "enough outsiders treat a
person as if he or she is a scrap of refuse, unworthy of respect, that person may
eventually begin to believe and internalize the perceptions" (p.58). Indeed, to be granted
autonomy by others means that that individual possesses the necessary degree of
judgment and ability to make decisions that will affect his/her own life as well as the
lives of those around him/her (Seltser & Miller, 1993).
An appropriate degree of autonomy is the most vital aspect of dignity. Human
beings require the ability to choose, the ability to effect situations and things over which
they have some control and discretion (Seltser & Miller). The greatest damage to
homeless adults, particularly those with dependent children, may be an undermining of
the sense that they are competent and worthwhile parents. Seltser and Miller observed
that the saddest comments are often comparative ones, when people look backward to the
stability they used to have and forward to what they hope to have again. More broadly,
however, this more social dimension involves the need to make a contribution, to
function as a responsible adult by collaborating with and helping other people. People
have talked about how frustrating it was to always be receiving help and about how much
they wanted to give something back in the future. The desire to be perceived as a
contributing member of society stems from a need to see oneself as independent enough
to have an effect upon one's social world. Indeed, the absence of an underlying sense of
predictability and autonomy may further undermine a fundamental capacity to see
ourselves as part of a wider group, as being "social actors rather than isolated observers,
as enablers rather than receivers, and as controllers rather than victims" (Seltser & Miller,
p. 107). To be a human being is to be capable of making choices; to severely restrict our
choices is to threaten our human dignity (Seltser & Miller).
A perception of choice or self-determination is also positively related to
psychological well-being in adulthood. Henderson et al (1996) noted that a sense of self-
determination is particularly important to well-being in later adulthood. As women seek
to have choices in all aspects of their lives, they desire choices within leisure as well.
Henderson et al believed that through leisure women can learn to value themselves as
individuals and challenge some of the societal restrictions and stereotypes that constrain
Experiencing dignity also depends upon opportunities for self-expression: the
ability to express who we are and what we feel (Seltser & Miller), for example, through
leisure. In addition to fostering autonomy, predictability, and self-expression, having a
place to live also provides a deeper conviction that we are social beings worthy of being
part of a community, adults who can take care of ourselves and fit into American society
(Seltser & Miller). Homeless families are forced to rely primarily on internal resources
to maintain a sense of dignity. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to carry
themselves in that way even in the best of circumstances, without both a history of
positive experiences and a continuing social system that reinforced a sense that he/she
was a worthwhile human being. When considering the set of particularly disastrous
experiences these families have been through, it is understandable how difficult it is for
them to maintain a sense of inner dignity and to act out of that sense in front of others
(Seltser & Miller). It is imperative to first acknowledge, on the basis of their own
accounts, that many members of homeless families entered their present turmoil with
extremely low self-esteem and terrible personal histories (Seltser & Miller). This
influences perceptions of personal adequacy and identity, as well as their leisure
opportunities and resources (Henderson et al).
Women have their own set of needs. In fact, the experience of being homeless
has been thought to particularly stigmatize women, create stress, decrease self-esteem,
and threaten human dignity (Klitzing). Being without a home can be devastating.
Moreover, family roles are central in defining women's lives (Baber &
Monaghan, 1988; Roberts & Newton, 1987). Henderson et al., suggested that women can
be constrained when childcare is not available during times when they want to participate
in leisure. Childcare accounts for the largest share of women's household labor and
limits their ability to take paid work outside the home (Seager & Olson, 1986). The
presence of children has a particularly strong effect on mothers' leisure (Bialeschki &
Michener; Shaw, 1988). Particularly for so many women Seltser and Miller interviewed,
whose sense of self was intimately tied up with their children or marriages, failures in
these arenas represented a deeper failure in life. For a parent, for example, being unable
to provide for their children was a social statement that they were unfit for the role of
Furthermore, many women maintain responsibility for the family and household,
even when employed. Moreover, many women made it a priority to ensure that leisure
interactions went well, and that the experience was enjoyable for everyone concerned.
This can make the situation feel more like work than leisure (Henderson et al).
Therefore, family activities can become a situation of caregiving or work if the children
are uncooperative or not enjoying the activity (Henderson et al). This results in a major
struggle for the woman to find time for herself, as well as time for leisure (Hochschild,
1989). Across studies, women report a need for self-determined personal or autonomous
leisure as a means of recuperation and renewal (Bialeschki & Michener, 1994; Freysinger
& Flannery, 1992). However, this is difficult to achieve because of a societal-imposed
ethic of care (Bialeschki & Michener; Harrington, Dawson, & Bolla, 1992).
According to Horna (1989), family leisure is largely role determined, meaning
that fathers and mothers typically conform to traditional gender roles in the enactment of
family leisure. Men not only participate less in family leisure than women, but they also
do more of the "playing," especially with regard to sports activities; women do more of
the planning, organizing, providing food, and childcare (Horna; Shaw, 1992). Women
often seek out situations that they believe will provide positive leisure experiences for
their children (Horna). Even when given the opportunity to make choices that could
enable leisure, women tended to make selections based on the needs of their children or
other necessities (Klitzing, 2000), manifesting an ethic of care. In general, though, the
growing body of research on family leisure activities suggests that activities together are
centrally important to family members, especially mothers (Henderson et al., 1996).
Recreation and Leisure Needs of People Who Are Homeless
"Leisure is a manner of expressing one's freedom, and enriching life beyond the
basic needs of health and welfare" (Sylvester, 1985, p.7). Leisure has been recognized as
an essential component of a holistic lifestyle (Hatton, McDonald, & McGeown, 1983).
In spite of this, the recreation and leisure needs of homeless people have been seen as
trivial at best (Ward, 1990). Fortunately though, there has been an increased recognition
that access to recreational opportunities can improve the quality of life of homeless
people in significant ways (Ward).
Neulinger suggested that perceived freedom, intrinsic motivation, and
noninstumentality are necessary elements for a person to experience leisure. Bialeschki
and Henderson (1986), likewise, identified some element of choice, intrinsic motivation
and pleasure as concepts of women's leisure. Wearing and Wearing (1988) characterized
the leisure experience of women as choice and anticipated intrinsic values, such as self-
expression, self-enhancement, and enjoyment. Shaw (1985) identified enjoyment,
intrinsic motivation, freedom of choice, relaxation, and lack of evaluation as components
of women's leisure experience. The idea of leisure as a meaningful experience has been
noted as the most useful way to define women's leisure (e.g. Bialeschki & Henderson,
1986; Henderson, 1990; Henderson & Bialeschki, 1991; Wearing & Wearing). When
Klitzing asked, "how do you feel when you experience leisure?" five women spoke about
feeling relaxed. Three spoke about feeling good.
Most leisure theorists believe leisure to be a subjective experience (Henderson et
al., 1996). An essential part of that experience is freedom. Social psychologists of
leisure have been careful to distinguish between absolute freedom and perceived freedom
(Neulinger, 1981; Iso-Ahola, 1980). They suggest that knowing the individual's
perception of freedom is more important than whether freedom exists in any absolute
sense (Henderson et al).
Shaw's (1994) conceptual framework for exploring the complexity and
contradictory nature of women's leisure suggested that leisure activities and experiences
are neither inherently positive nor negative, and that it is possible for leisure to contain
both positive and negative outcomes at the same time. For the majority of women in
Klitzing's study, this held true. It has historically been thought that leisure activities and
experiences were inherently and solely positive. The first leisure model to propose a
negative or unpleasant component of leisure was Gunter and Gunter (1980). The
environment or setting of the leisure often affects how leisure is experienced. Although
women may live in the same shelter, the women's experiences in the shelter vary based
on personality, family background, education, children, social support, race and other
variables. The women's living situation, however, is part of their everyday life, affecting
their leisure, and should be examined. The context of the shelter, in which the women
who participated in the present study lived, included rules, goals, obligations, and chores.
These aspects seemed to have a major effect on what the women could or could not do in
leisure, as well as on other aspects of their lives.
The accounts that homeless parents give in their interviews reveal that, apart from
associations with their partners or children, virtually all their other social contacts have
been severed (Seltser & Miller, 1993). Shaw (2000) recognized that "leisure cannot be
easily or meaningfully separated from other aspects of social life" (p. 149). To lose a job,
for example, is to lose not merely a paycheck but an entire social network that helps to
bolster one's sense of being a social actor (Seltser & Miller, 1993). However, many
families tried to distance themselves as much as possible from the people they lived with
in order to avoid contamination or association with a set of problems they wanted to
ignore (Seltser & Miller). While Seltser and Miller attained some examples of mutual
strengthening, most of these people lacked any meaningful adult-to-adult interaction.
When it comes to day-to-day reality, though, what is important is face-to-face contact
with individuals, including how many times individuals avoid us (Seltser & Miller).
Recreation and leisure can provide individuals with a chance to redefine
themselves. Individuals can be known as "a good ball player", for example, instead of
being known as a "homeless person." This can be liberating, since one of the hardest
things to bear is being labeled as "homeless" (Rosenthal, 1994). Moreover, participation
in community based recreation aids homeless people to overcome social isolation, and to
promote integration as well as self-efficacy (Harrington & Dawson, 1997). Participation
in recreation programs with "ordinary" people not only provides a sense of normalcy, but
allows people who are homeless a "sense of freedom and dignity as consumers in an open
market" (Ovrebo, 1992, p. 143). Harrington and Dawson felt that recreation participation
could combat demoralization, connect people to the community, stabilize and normalize
lives and improve the quality of life for people who are homeless. This connection
between leisure/recreation and positive outcomes such as assisting with coping or
increasing quality of life for people who are homeless has been understudied (Klitzing).
Ferrill (1991) realized that doing basic households tasks allowed several former
homemakers to do what they had gotten a sense of satisfaction from before becoming
homeless. In fact, "I restrained myself as I saw the rewards of letting people do for
themselves, and the danger of fostering a sense of helplessness and dependency by taking
away that opportunity" (Ferrill, p. 26).
However, most people only see the homeless as needing help. Undervalued
people, such as those who are homeless, may demonstrate learned helplessness,
dependency and incompetence, thus impeding their integration into everyday community
life (Kunstler, 1991). This can result in being overcome by feelings of helplessness and
hopelessness (Lovell, Barrow, & Struening, 1992). Austin (1998) suggested that
participation in a prescribed activity would facilitate a person to "gain control over their
situation and to overcome feelings of helplessness" (p. 112). Furthermore, Mobily
(1985) showed that when individuals can control some aspect of their environment, they
derive psychological benefits. Recreation and leisure activities can be the foundation for
learning to control aspects of the environment. Females have often described their leisure
as augmenting self-confidence and feelings of self-empowerment by defying harsh
gender role norms (Freysinger, 1988). Activities away from the shelter may offer the
personal space for women living in a homeless shelter to experience moments of control
in a life situation that has multiple constraints. Leisure may also be an opportunity for
women to cope with their present situation (Klitzing, 2000).
Most women rarely have complete freedom to choose leisure activities for
themselves (Henderson et al., 1996). Church activities, volunteering and community
service, and education are of particular significance to women in North America
(Henderson et al). They can provide a social network and meet women's affiliation
needs, but it can also be experienced as work rather than leisure (Allen & Chin-Sang,
1990). Many women experience a lack of balance in their lives due primarily to a lack of
leisure. They may lack time free from obligations, space for themselves, and/or
opportunities and resources needed to enjoy leisure (Henderson et al).
A cross-national study of family leisure has also indicated the importance to
women of having the time and space for leisure of their own (Samuel, 1995). Many
women desire and actively seek out some autonomy in leisure when leisure becomes a
time they do something for themselves and a time free, if only briefly, of their
responsibilities for others (Samuel). Some women prefer women-only activities and feel
more comfortable in such groups, because they provide personal growth and a sense of
control and empowerment (Henderson & Bialeschki, 1986, 1987). Women-only groups
can provide a different experience because women can be themselves and are relatively
free of role expectations (Sadker & Sadker, 1986). Woods (1994) noted that women tend
to be more intimate with friends, more likely to have one-to-one relationships, and to
receive understanding, support and security in their relationships. In fact, one of
women's most common activities is visiting friends (Bialeschki, 1984).
While women-only groups are beneficial, women also need time alone. For
example, Jendaya, as quoted by Klitzing (2000), stated that "I feel the most comfortable
when I am alone" (p.129). However, women are often socialized to believe that
aloneness is to be feared and avoided, not sought and enjoyed. Many women, however,
have learned to value solitude (Henderson et al).
The leisure of women has been heavily influenced by patriarchal structures that
dictated gender roles, family structures, work, and appropriate characteristics for women.
These structures have often been repressive and oppressive of women in all aspects of
their lives. Learning autonomous and self-determined leisure may be particularly
important for women who have learned to put the needs of others before their own needs
(Henderson et al), and fallen under the weight of these patriarchal structures. Leisure can
be a source of empowerment over the ethic of care and a form of resistance to gender
Most of the activities that the women in Klitzing's study discussed could be
considered ordinary and casual. Many of their activities were informal, inexpensive, and
accessible. Also, the activities that the women discussed were part of Kelly's (1983) core
activities. Kelly described what he called a "core" of activities that included reading,
walking, watching television, listening to the radio, spending time with relatives, and
sexual interactions. Stebbins (1997) described activities such as taking a nap, watching
television, reading a newspaper, and taking a walk as examples of casual leisure. In this
regard, the leisure activities of the women who were homeless and participated in
Klitzing's study were found to be very similar to those engaged in by the majority of
adults in the United States.
However beneficial recreation can be for people who are homeless, multiple
obstacles keep them from such experiences. Jackson (1997) defined constraints as
"factors that are assumed by researchers and perceived by individuals to limit the
formation of leisure preferences and to inhibit participation and enjoyment in leisure" (p.
461). Constraints can be real or conceived. Noted "real" constraints are lack of
childcare, stress from job searching, and/or not feeling comfortable or social with the
people around them. Perceived constraints include believing that other people will look
down on them for engaging in a certain activity, or supposing that their abilities are not
sufficient for an activity. A common fallacy is assuming that perceived constraints are
only in the mind and are not "real" (Henderson et al., 1996). Often the initial solution to
perceived constraints is thinking that the individual requires only a simple change of
perception or attitude. For example, if some women feel constrained by childcare or
familial responsibilities, the suggestion might be that they should change their attitude to
give themselves relief from feeling the weight of their responsibilities. "This attitude
change, however, ignores the profound socialization into such responsibilities and the
value women place on caring activities and concern for others' well-being" (Henderson et
al., p. 104), also known as an ethic of care.
Moreover, Henderson et al purported that constraints may be conscious or
subconscious. For example, lack of financial resources is another constraint that has been
shown to affect both men and women (e.g. Searle & Jackson, 1985). However,
homemakers usually do not have an independent income and are often reluctant to spend
"family money" on their own leisure activities (Henderson et al). They are also less
likely to own a car, and walking or taking public transportation can be difficult and
inconvenient, especially with children. And it can be dangerous in certain cities and at
particular times of day (Henderson et al). Lack of skills can consciously constrain leisure
(Jackson & Rucks, 1995). Furthermore, subconscious, not absolute lack of skills due to
low self-esteem or self-confidence may be the antecedent cause (Henderson et al).
Subconsciously knowing that an activity is considered socially inappropriate or
unsuitable may mean that a woman does not even consider the possibility of participation
and decide that she is "not interested" (Henderson et al). In fact, Allen (1984) stated that
the lack of approval for an activity by either family members or friends was reported to
be a stronger constraint on leisure than other intrapersonal or structural constraints. Other
subconscious constraints include shyness, self-consciousness, ethic of care and poor body
image. These can also be seen as direct interpersonal constraints (Henderson, Stalnaker,
& Taylor, 1988). However, women will not be able to find ways to negotiate self-
esteem, body image, the ethic of care, their lack of a sense of entitlement, or even fear of
violence unless they recognize such factors as constraints (Henderson et al., 1996).
The negotiation strategies that people use depend on the kinds of constraints they
face and on the activities in which they wish to participate (Jackson & Rucks).
Behavioral strategies such as modifying their leisure are far more prevalent than
cognitive strategies such as ignoring the problem or "trying to be positive" (Jackson &
Rucks). People are more likely to be successful at negotiating leisure constraints when
they are highly motivated to continue participation (Allen). Kay and Jackson (1991)
found that constraints may reduce leisure participation below desired levels, but some
activities like watching TV, visiting with a friend, reading, etc. were not effected by
financial constraints. Additionally, their negotiation is affected by availability of
resources and the difficulty of the constraint (Henderson et al). Similarly, the women in
Klitzing's study were able to have more frequent leisure experiences when they were
away from the control, structure, or surveillance of the shelter. When questioned, the
women in her study did not indicate they were highly constrained in their leisure.
Despite poverty and numerous structural restrictions, all of the women could identify
leisure activities or experiences that brought them fun, enjoyment, and/or relaxation.
Therefore, leisure could be a significant aid in helping women who are homeless
cope with their life situation. Although the shelter is not "home" and only superficially
satisfies certain needs (i.e. safety, food, roof, structure, storage), the shelter can be a place
for people who are homeless to experience leisure. Leisure can give people, especially
women, the time and space they need to resist societal expectations and feel free enough
to express themselves. Leisure also has the possibility to enhance self-esteem, restore
dignity, facilitate agency, improve affiliation and social networks, increase autonomy,
redefine identity status, and strengthen will. As this literature review demonstrates,
although there are a plethora of reasons for homelessness (i.e. lack of housing,
employment issues, mental illness, addiction, domestic abuse, loss of breadwinner),
leisure has the potential to alleviate some of the negative impacts of homelessness.
This exploratory study was an extension of a study that examined leisure in the
lives of women who are homeless within the context of a shelter (Klitzing, 2000). It
expands on Klitzing's work by focusing on mothers who are homeless. Butler, as well as
other researchers (Klitzing; Kunstler, 1991), suggested that more qualitative research be
done to better understand the needs of people, women in particular, who are homeless.
This chapter describes the research methods that were used for this study.
The study employed naturalistic research. Naturalistic research, also known as
interpretive or phenomenological perspective, stems from the idea that knowledge is the
result of human activity rather than an entity waiting to be discovered (Bullock, 1993).
Bullock further explains that the assumption underlying the phenomenological
perspective is that knowledge is a human construction, and as such is constantly
changing. In this type of research the subjective experience of the researcher leads him
or her to an understanding of the realities being studied. Interpretive research
acknowledges the complexity of human life and seeks full, vivid descriptions of time and
setting in order to explain meaning (Rubin & Rub in, 1995). To better understand the
emerging concepts and propositions of these realities, the researcher evaluates the method
throughout the study and then adjusts it to better understand the phenomenon being
studied. As a result, there is no predetermined data collection period, as data are
collected and analyzed throughout the research process until no new data or concepts are
discovered. The ongoing analysis determines whether the inclusion of new/different
research participants as well as the collection of additional or different data are needed.
Klitzing collected her data at a transitional facility for women. As this study is a
replication and extension of hers, two local homeless shelters were chosen as the sites for
St. Thomas House
One of the sites for this study was St. Thomas House (STH) (pseudonym), a
homeless shelter located in a mid-sized Southern city. STH was chosen because it was
the only shelter in the area that had services for women. The shelter's name was changed
to protect the privacy of the participants.
Most of the people who frequent STH are either African-American or Caucasian.
It is open to the general population from 10am until 7pm every day. Lunch is served
from 11:00am to 12:30pm to anyone, visitor or resident. At 6pm dinner is served to the
residents only. Approximately 25 residents and five temporary guests stay on site each
night. The temporary guests are only guaranteed a one-night stay, and the residents can
stay up to one year. On average, residents stay about two months, however, they may be
evicted if they break any of the rules (see Appendix A). Once a person has been a
resident of STH, they cannot be a resident again for one year. Moreover, any visitor to
the facility can be restricted for 30 days due to a rule infraction or disorderly conduct. To
be reinstated they must submit a letter of apology to the director. If at any time they
violate their restriction the time starts over again. A second violation results in a 60-day
Anyone can use the facilities at STH, however, there are admission criteria for
people wishing to stay the night. There are only two facilities in the county that allow
people who are homeless to spend the night, and the other facility only serves men. As a
result, STH first seeks to help women, children, and families find a place to stay for the
night. In addition, people with medical conditions, such as a recent release from the
hospital, are also given higher priority. Generally, though, admission is given to those
first on the waiting list. Every day there is a waiting list of at least ten people looking to
spend the night at the shelter. However, in order to be considered, a person has to obtain
a clearance from the police station about six blocks away. The first twenty-five beds are
filled with individuals for an indefinite period of time (residents), then the last five beds
are given to people only for the night (temps), though the temps are the first ones to be
put on the waiting list the next morning. Each room has between three to five beds.
Families are always together in a room, but they sometimes have to share with single
The facilities at STH include a garden, kitchen, dining room, nine rooms housing
three to five people, two public phones, two bathrooms for each sex, children's play area
(indoor and outdoor), lounge, case managers' office, laundry room, outdoor basketball
net, two offices, and a conference room. It is centrally located in the downtown area of
In the past year at STH (STH Annual Statistical Report, 2000-2001):
* 11,597 shelter nights were provided (74% to women and families)
* 18.7 days average length of stay (including temporary guests and residents)
* 39,936 meals were served in the soup kitchen
* 1206 non-resident visitors washed and dried laundry
* 1371 non-resident visitors took showers
* 340 people were turned away from the shelter
Over the past two years, the researcher volunteered between two and four hours
each week at the front desk of STH. During that time the researcher observed some of
the participants during their daily activities. Furthermore, from her volunteering, the
researcher knows the workings of the shelter and the dynamics between staff, volunteers,
residents, and visitors.
The other site chosen for this study was a Salvation Army (SA) shelter. This site
was chosen so as to broaden the number of participants in the study. SA is a homeless
shelter that services a variety of homeless people, including families. It is located in a
different mid-sized Southern city than STH. Its name was not changed due to the
abundance of Salvation Army shelters in this country.
SA is open to the general population from 8am-5:30 pm. They serve lunch
(12:30-1:30pm) and dinner (5:30-6:00pm) to anyone every day. They have three
programs running to serve the various needs of the homeless population: a substance
abuse rehabilitation program, a work program, and a temporary shelter program. There
are separate men, women, and family areas. They house at least 100 people each night,
and put up extra cots during the winter months. Mothers with children have their own
section of the building, and each family is given its own room. On average, people stay
at the shelter about two months, though they may be evicted if they break any of the rules
(see Appendix B).
The facilities at SA are extensive. They include a classroom, a kitchen, various
sleeping areas, a playground, two lounge areas, a laundry room, a cafeteria, indoor and
outdoor children's play areas, offices, and a conference room. It is centrally located in
the downtown area of the city.
In the past year at SA (SA Annual Statistical Report, 2000-2001):
* 123,332 meals served
* 37,783 nights lodging for...
* 3,888 men
* 648 women
* 173 children
* 89 families
* 1,372 days of camp for children
A purposive sampling technique was utilized for this study. This technique is
often used in qualitative research "partly because the initial definition of the universe is
more limited, and partly because social processes have a logic and a coherence that
random sampling can reduce to uninterpretable sawdust" (Miles & Huberman, 1984,
p.27). Thus, truly getting at the heart of an issue through interviews can dispel any false
first impressions or hypotheses gained through one-time observances of an issue.
Furthermore, although qualitative research cannot be generalized to a population as most
research done through random sampling, qualitative research methods give you a deeper
understanding of people and occurrences.
To be considered for the study, the women had to be over 18 years of age and a
mother. The case managers at the shelter aided the researcher in identifying the mothers
at the shelter. The researcher recruited participants by approaching the residents of STH
and SA who were mothers over age 18 and asking them to participate in the study (see
Appendix C for Participant Recruitment Script). As Glaser & Strauss (1967) suggested,
the interviews continued until the data was saturated. No compensation was given for
To participate in the study, the women had to be able to verbally communicate, as
well as able to sit and talk for at least half an hour. In addition, they had to be able to
give informed consent. Prior to the interview the researcher ascertained this information
by requesting the information from the potential participant.
Eight mothers were able to participate in the study, three from STH and five from
SA (see Table 3-1). They varied in age from 23 years to 44 years old. Four of the
mothers were Caucasian, three were African-American, and one was Hispanic. All but
one mother had finished high school, and none of them were employed at the time of
their interviews. Four of the mothers did not have all of their children with them at the
Table 3.1 List of women interviewed
In Shelter Length of Stay at
Name Childcare Race Age Education Before Interview
Alison 3 (1 at STH) Af. Am. 38 Some college No 6 weeks
Tracy 2 (both at STH) Cauc. 39 HS No 4 days
Rachel 2 (both at STH) Hisp. 43 Some college Yes 2 weeks
Virginia 2 (not at SA) Af. Am. 39 HS No 6 weeks
Andrea 1 (at SA) Af. Am. 25 HS No 7 weeks
Cindy 2 (1 at SA) Cauc. 40 HS No 3 days
Krystal 2 (1 at SA) Cauc. 44 College No 3 weeks
Emily 2 (both at SA) Cauc. 23 GED No 4 days
Alison was a 38-year-old African-American woman. She had three daughters--
aged 9, 16, and 17. The two oldest lived with their father in Texas and she was still in
contact with them. The youngest, had a different father, and lived with Alison at STH.
Alison had never been homeless before, though she had lived with friends. Her family
did not know she was without a home. At the time of the interview, she had been at STH
for about six weeks. She originally lost her home when she broke up with her boyfriend.
She then moved in with a friend, transitioned to a rooming house, and then finally came
to the shelter. She planned on staying at the shelter until she received her unemployment
check and then found an apartment.
She graduated from high school, and attended one year of college. At the time of
the interview she was a day care worker, but had previously worked as a bookkeeper as
well as an administrative assistant. Since she worked part-time, she also looked for a
"good" paying job and interviewed at least three times each week. While she was at
interviews, her daughter was in school.
The interview was conducted in the conference room at STH. Since only staff are
allowed in the conference room, there was little traffic during the interview. Alison was
rather loquacious, and had multiple stories to tell. She was an educated and assertive
woman who knew what she needed to do to end her homelessness and was trying to do
that while still keeping her daughter happy. For example, though trying to save money,
Alison took her daughter out to dinner every once in a while.
Tracy was a 39-year-old married Caucasian woman. She had two daughters--
aged 11 and 14 years old. Tracy, along with her husband and daughters, had been at STH
for four days. They had never been homeless before. They had moved around due to
financial problems, which led them to seek work in various other cities.
Tracy graduated from high school and was accepted to culinary school, but did
not go due to the nature of her husband's job. However, she planned on going back at
some point. Her husband was currently working, but she had not found ajob yet. She
had worked at convenience stores, and had previously operated a bakeshop out of her
The interview was conducted in her room at STH. Her husband and children
continuously came in and out of the room during the interview, which led to various
disruptions. At one point, the researcher had to leave so the husband could change
clothes. Considering the interruptions, the interview flowed smoothly and Tracy was
very forthcoming in her answers. She was a self-assured woman who liked to keep to
herself and was "just passing time" until she and her family could leave the shelter. They
were waiting to save enough money from the husband's job so they could get their own
Rachel was a 43-year-old Hispanic woman. She had two daughters--aged 14 and
18 years old. They had been at STH for two weeks. They lived at another shelter in New
Mexico in 1997 as the result of financial difficulties. They moved to this state because
her oldest daughter wanted to go to school here.
Rachel graduated high school and attended some college for physical therapy.
She did not have a job yet, so they did not have a house even though they had a Section 8
voucher. She called herself a "displaced home worker."
The interview was conducted in her room. Throughout the interview, Rachel
emphasized that she and her daughters do everything together. She was also adamant
that she could not experience leisure unless she had a home and did not have to worry
about finances. They planned on leaving STH once they found work. Overall, Rachel
was a rather upbeat person who was realistic about her situation while trying to see the
Virginia was a 39-year old single African-American woman. She had two sons--
aged 18 and 20 years old. They lived with her mother. Virginia had been at the SA in
the drug rehabilitation program for six weeks. Though her mother had put her out of her
home at various times, she had never really been homeless because her mother always
took her back. Virginia was married, but due to her drug and alcohol problems, her
whole family moved in with her mother. Then she divorced her husband and gave her
mother custody of her children.
Virginia graduated from high school, but had not attended college. At the time of
the interview, she was unemployed, which was a criteria of the rehabilitation program at
The interview was conducted in one of the case management offices. Virginia
was very open and easy to interview. She was very intent on starting the curriculum of
the drug rehabilitation program and "getting rehabilitated." She wanted to eventually
have a place to live for her and her youngest son.
Andrea was a 25-year-old African-American women; her only son was five years
old. They were originally from another state, but had been in this state for some time.
She had never lived on the streets, but had been without a home for quite some time.
During that time her friends housed her for long periods. They had been at the SA for
seven weeks. Her Department of Children and Families case manager referred her to the
Andrea had graduated from high school. She was not employed at the time of the
interview, and that frustrated her since she "desperately wanted to support herself and her
son." Moreover, she wanted to move back to her mother's house in another state.
The interview was conducted in one of the case management offices. Her son
was present during the interview. His presence was a distraction to Andrea. She
disclosed that he has Attention Deficit Disorder and it was very evident by his continuous
roaming of the room. As a result, Andrea frequently had to stop mid-sentence to
reprimand him. It was possible that this caused her answers to be short. Interestingly,
she could not define the word nor relate her feelings about leisure since she had "never
heard that word before."
Cindy was a 40-year-old single Caucasian woman. She had a 14-year-old
daughter who was staying at a nearby shelter, and a 21-year-old son who was at the SA
with her. Her daughter was at the other shelter due to a misunderstanding. They were
originally from another southern state, and had been at the SA for three days. Cindy
became homeless when she broke up with her boyfriend.
Cindy had not graduated from high school and was not employed at the time of
the interview. However, she was trying to get bus tickets for them to get back to her
The interview was conducted in one of the case management offices. During the
interview, Cindy did most of her talking while looking at the floor, and most of her
sentences were short. Cindy was rather distraught about not being with her daughter, and
also that her daughter was alone at another shelter. Cindy claimed she "could not enjoy
anything" until she was with her daughter again.
Krystal was a 44-year-old divorced Caucasian woman. She had a son, aged 12,
who was staying at the YMCA, and a daughter, aged two, who was staying with her at
the SA. They had been at the shelters for three weeks. She moved from Michigan after
losing ajob and quitting another one. She had never been homeless before and her
family did not know about her situation because she felt "they would not help."
Krystal graduated from college with a B.S. degree. At the time of the interview
she was not employed, but was looking for employment with the federal government.
She had worked for the government before, as well as in cosmetology and retail.
The interview was conducted in an office cubicle, near a trafficked hallway.
There was a steady flow of people that were mildly distracting. During the interview, her
rambunctious daughter was running all over the facility and had to be tracked down
multiple times. At one point, she told the researcher to "hurry up" as her daughter was
becoming "overly antsy." It appeared Krystal was using the interview to vent and did not
answer many of the questions. Krystal was incredibly frustrated with her situation and
that she had to "watch her daughter 24 hours a day and could not ask for help from others
around her." This constant supervision was hard on her as she was used to her son doing
some babysitting for her.
Emily was a 23-year-old single Caucasian woman. She had two sons--aged five
and one. The three of them had been at the SA for four days. They came to the SA when
they were evicted from their apartment. Emily's mother knew about her situation, but
"had done little to help." This was the second time Emily had been homeless; she was
"kicked out" of the house at age 16 by her mom. When that happened, she stayed with
Emily had her GED and was not employed at the time of the interview. Before
she could become employed she needed childcare, for which she had applied.
The interview was conducted in a classroom. Her children were allowed to play
with the toys in the room, though that became a distraction for her when they started
fighting over the toys. Emily was grateful to be at the shelter, and was surprised at the
ease with which she and the children were able to adjust.
As could be expected, a few barriers to conducting interviews arose. Some
women would agree to interviews, but then some reason would detain them from keeping
the appointment. Two women either left the shelter or had an emergency arise before the
interview could occur. Another women's employment schedule kept changing and that
caused her to never make an interview. Additionally, six women backed out of the
interview simply because they were too tired or felt that the interview would be too
probing and personal. A husband of another potential woman would not let her be
interviewed because he did not feel they were homeless, they were "simply in a period of
Data were primarily collected through in-depth, face-to-face interviews (see
Appendix D for Interview Guide) during the months of June and July of 2002. There was
no specified or predetermined time frame for data collection; instead, the interviews were
conducted until no new themes or concepts emerged.
The interviews were semi-structured (Rubin & Rubin, 1995), and conducted after
the participants read and signed the informed consent (see Appendix E).
The interviews were based on six main questions (see Appendix D): (1) Tell me
about yourself; (2) Describe your life at the shelter; (3) What are things that cause you
stress; (4) What are some things they do because they want to and do not have to; (5)
What do you do in your free time; and (6) What comes to mind when you think of the
word leisure. These six questions also had more specific, probing questions to flush out
more details. The first question asked about basic information. The second question
delved into shelter life. Through this set of questions, their routine and shelter
experiences were discussed. Their activities outside the shelter were also discussed. The
third question attempted to discern the causes of stress, which illuminated some
constraints to their leisure. The fourth question asked about choice, fun, enjoyment, and
relaxation. Besides being key components of leisure, this question was used to discern
intrinsic motivation as well. This question also examined with whom the women
recreated, as well as what kept them from their desired activities. The fifth question
explored free time and free time activities, including activities that had caused trouble for
the women. The final question directly asked about leisure. They were asked to define it
and describe how they felt when they experienced it. It also sought to expose any illegal
leisure or constraints to their leisure. Most of the questions revolved around the key
concepts of leisure, such as intrinsic motivation, freedom, choice, and enjoyment.
All the participants were interviewed at their respective shelters. The interviews
conducted at STH were in the dining room or conference room. These sites were chosen
because they were spacious, comfortable, and familiar to the participants. The interviews
at the SA were conducted at first in the case management offices. However, when the
noises outside became a distraction, the interviews were moved to an office cubicle. But
that was also located in a disruptive area, so the last interview was conducted in a
classroom. The times were set up at the convenience of each participant, working around
job and appointments. However, this led to multiple interviews being canceled or moved.
The interviews were audio-recorded and then transcribed verbatim. After the
interviews were transcribed, each participant was shown a copy of her transcript for
approval and confirmation of accuracy. The interview tapes and transcripts were
assigned a code number. The list connecting the participant's name to this number was
kept in a file cabinet. The audiotapes and the transcripts were kept in a different file
cabinet. When the study was completed and the data analyzed, the code list, the tapes and
the transcripts were destroyed. Also, pseudo-names were used in the reporting.
The data were collected through fieldwork, observations, and documents, which
were analyzed systematically as the data was gathered. In addition, agency documents,
researcher observations, and informal conversations with the women and staff helped to
clarify the interview data.
Analysis began with the transcription of the first tape and continued throughout
the data collection. The transcriptions were read and reread. Then they were coded to
develop and refine the interpretation of the data (Taylor & Bogdan, 1984). Coding assists
in the interpretation of data as it fragments the data into separate categories or themes
(Rubin & Rubin). A code was given to each characteristic or concept that emerged about
the women and her leisure. Through analysis, various categories were identified and
their connections were determined. Subsequent data collection was based on the
emerging concepts developed through constant comparison with the additional data.
Data analysis proceeds from 'open' coding (identifying categories, properties and
dimensions) through axiel coding (examining conditions, strategies, and consequences) to
selective coding around an emerging story line (Dey, 1999; Glaser & Strauss, 1967;
Strauss & Corbin, 1990). This was to allow for adjustments due to new ideas or concepts
emerging from the gathered data. Once no new concepts were ascertained to further
conceptualize the data, no new interviews were conducted.
The interviews were coded and then analyzed for themes among the codes. The
process of constant comparison was used to analyze these themes. Constant comparison
involves four stages of categories and their properties: generating categories and their
properties; integrating them; delimiting them; and writing the emerging theory (Dey). A
category is "a conceptual element of the theory" (Dey, p. 7); whereas, a property is "a
conceptual aspect or element of a category" (Glaser & Strauss, p. 36).
Coding the observations generated categories using open coding. Open coding
refers to "the process of breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing and
categorizing data" (Strauss & Corbin, p. 61). It is "the first basic analytical step" from
which axiel and selective coding follows. Axiel coding is "a set of procedures whereby
data are put back together in new ways after open coding, by making connections
between categories" (Strauss & Corbin, p. 96). Axiel coding was the method used to
integrate the categories. Selective coding is "the process of selecting the core category,
systematically relating it to other categories, validating those relationships, and filling in
categories that need further refinement and development" (Strauss & Corbin, p. 116).
In addition, constant comparison was used to compare the information obtained
from observations, interviews, and existing documents so as to triangulate among the
various data collection methods (Bullock, 1993). Overall, the analysis was a recursive
process (Howe, 1991), designed so that additional data could be used as they became
relevant to the study.
While listening to the women discuss their everyday experiences several themes
emerged. One key theme was stress. Significant stressors were people, rules, time, and
the lack of money, a job, and/or transportation. All of the women, except Virginia (39,
African-American, 2 sons at her moms), were stressed and/or worried about their
childrenn. This was just one manifestation of the mother's ethic of care, and constitutes
another theme. Further examples of the influence of the ethic of care include cleaning,
putting other's first, and putting children's needs above their own. The final theme
discussed was a lack of autonomy. A majority of the mothers felt they had limited
options and/or power in multiple aspects of their lives: clothing, shelter, schedules, rules,
food, and leisure. The themes were also discussed in relation to the mother's leisure.
However, to better understand the role of these three themes and leisure in their lives,
their life in the shelters must be looked at first.
Life at the two shelters was seemingly similar: up at a certain time; in the shelter
watching the children, or out looking for jobs or attending appointments; lunch at the
shelter, which is offered to everybody; back for a residents-only dinner; and then a
curfew. At St. Thomas House (STH), the residents got up at 7am, were offered breakfast,
lunch at noon, dinner at 6pm, check-in at 7pm, and back at the shelter by 10pm for bed.
In contrast, at the Salvation Army (SA) residents had to be up at 5:30am, attended a
mandatory breakfast, and had to be in by 5:30pm (also dinnertime). Virginia's daily
schedule was a little different than the rest of the women, since she was in a substance
abuse program at SA. She explained:
Well, we get up at 5:30 in the morning, do our personal hygiene, make our
bed, go to breakfast, come back. Then we have our group ... Then we
leave from there and we come back here. And we either go in the Pit,
which is where we smoke and watch TV and have conversations. Or
either out in the garden where the nice breeze is and we can sit in the
lobby. We can't go back to bed until after 12. Then we have our
[Alcoholics Anonymous] (AA) meeting like 1 or 2 every day of the week.
And then we have a [Narcotics Anonymous] meeting or AA meeting in
the afternoon. And it varies anywhere from 6 to 8 o'clock. And then we
come back here and get ready for bed and we in bed by 10. And that's the
routine, until we start our program in a couple weeks.
Although children had to be supervised at all times at STH, parents could leave
their children with other people. This was not the case at SA, where the parents had to
watch their own children at all times. As Emily (23, Caucasian, 2 boys with her at SA)
put it, "the children have to be with you at all times. Sometimes, that's a little... like if
they're sleeping, you can't go outside and smoke a cigarette."
When not at the shelter during the week, half of the women were likely to be
looking for jobs (Alison, Rachel, Andrea, Krystal). Five of the women were often
walking around either the neighborhood or the mall. All of the women went to the
library at some point in the week. Alison, Emily, and Andrea were the only women who
also went to a friend's house. However, Tracy, Rachel and Cindy were from others
states, so they were not able to have family nearby, or had time to build friendships.
Virginia and Krystal (44, Caucasian, 1 daughter with her at SA, 1 son at YMCA) had
other reasons for not seeing friends. For instance, Virginia's program did not allow her
away from its structure, and Krystal explained that she had "lost a lot of friends, they're
just busy doing other stuff."
Other things they did when not at the shelter were applying for food stamps,
attending doctor or housing appointments, at the park or garden, or attending church.
Each of these activities tended to fill up most of their days. Unlike the rest of the women,
Tracy (39, Caucasian, 2 girls with her at STH) spent most of her time at the shelter,
although she did leave to go to the library. During the day she would spend time with her
children while her husband was at work. Virginia also rarely left the shelter, except for
AA meetings as part of her program.
When the mothers were not working on goals such as finding a house or a job,
they were able to engage in various activities. They were able to read, write, watch
children, organize their room, watch TV, and/or visit their child at another facility. Five
mothers answered the question "what do you do when you are not working on your goals
or chores?" with leisure-related activities such as walking, praying, and watching TV.
For example, Rachel's reply was succinct--"basically, all we do is walk. We just walk or
sleep." Furthermore, two of those mothers, Alison and Tracy who are both at STH, also
answered with non-leisure related activities--job searching, and organizing her room,
respectively. Tracy replied "I just stay around here, keep up with the kids. As you can
tell I keep things pretty organized around here. Basically, right now, that's all I do." On
the other hand, Krystal felt that if she was not working on goals, then she was watching
her child or visiting her other child, "there is no other time left, there really is not. Not
for myself anyway."
The mothers' weekends were different than their weekdays, except for Cindy (40,
Caucasian, 1 son with her at SA, 1 daughter at another shelter) and Virginia. The other
six mothers' lives were less structured on the weekend. They were able to sleep later,
spend time with friends, as well as do the activities previously mentioned. As Alison
Usually on Saturday and Sundays we sleep in late because there is really
nothing going on. We can go to the library and stuff, but you can't really
look for housing. You could if you were looking for, but I'm looking for
low-income housing, so they're usually Monday through Friday.
For others, the weekends were also about being less busy. For example, Rachel (43,
Hispanic, 2 girls with her at STH) noted that "during the weekend we walk around and
relax." Unlike Rachel, Andrea (25, African-American, 1 son with her at SA) liked to stay
at the shelter on the weekend: "It's the same thing, I usually keep to myself. I watch TV
a lot and learn things on TV."
As Andrea observed, being at the shelter had positive aspects. In fact, five of the
eight women discussed at least one positive aspect of their stay at the shelter, this
included all of the women who stayed at STH. Emily summed it up when she said, "it's
been pretty good I think. It gives my kids like structure, it gives them, you know they
have a certain time they have to go to bed, a certain time they have to get up." She later
observed that, "they're going to do things for my kids that I can't do, as far as putting
them in day care. Which, if you're not working and you're not homeless, you can't get
day care. Day care is pretty much my main problem." Also as a result of staying at the
shelter, the women were offered free shelter, had their own room, were given a sense of
security, and had access to helpful staff.
Though living at the shelter was a better choice than living on the streets, only
two woman voiced gratitude for "the roof over her head." For instance, Alison (38,
African-American, 1 daughter with her at STH, 2 with their dad) stated:
I have my own room, so you know I do feel like I do have a space.
Somebody laughed because I said I'm gonna hang a picture. And they
said 'girl this ain't your home!' And I said, you know I do feel a little bit
Rachel also voiced appreciation for her accommodations: "You know we thank and
praise God that we have a house, food in our stomach, a roof over our heads, we have a
place to shower and such, and at least a bed to sleep on, not the cold floor." But Rachel,
like all the rest, noted that being in a shelter was not an experience that most people
would willingly choose. She stated:
Um, it really wasn't our first choice because of the experience we had at
the first one. But we had to financially. Um, but once we got here, it's
not too bad because they feed us, we stay here no rent. Course we only
sleep here and take showers and just we eat and then we're off, we don't
stick here long.
Interestingly, Rachel was also the only woman who referred to the shelter as
"home" when she said "we just come home and crash." However, she also made six
references to the fact that she was without a home, though she never mentioned being
"homeless." For instance she said that "it's hard to not have a home, somewhere you're
staying." However, five women did mention being "homeless" (Alison, Cindy, Virginia,
Cindy, and Krystal). Four of the women referred to the shelter by calling it "the shelter"
(Alison, Tracy, Krystal, and Emily). Only Alison referred to it by name--St. Thomas
House. The last way the mothers referred to their living condition was by simply
mentioning it as their "room." Five mothers did this, in fact Alison mentioned her room
16 times, Krystal did so three times, and Tracy, Virginia, and Andrea each mentioned it
once. For example, Andrea stated that when she gets angry she will "smoke a cigarette.
But, um, just listening to my music, smoking a cigarette or going to my room and being
by myself." The two mothers who did not make mention of their room were Cindy and
Emily. Evidently most of the mothers were grateful for their own space, if not the entire
Moreover, part of having her own room inferred some sense of security for three
of the mothers. Virginia said "I don't have to worry 'bout drinking and drugging. I'm
clean and sober, and I have good people around me." Rachel observed that she did not
worry "because they have good security here, the door locks and so I don't worry at
night." In fact, Alison felt that:
the most nerve-wracking thing is watching [her daughter] constantly for
threats and such. That's the thing that really, you know, I don't worry
'bout it at night, when we're asleep even with people walking in the room.
Another positive attribute of the shelter was the staff. For half of the women, the
personnel were a beneficial feature. Tracy was the most complimentary:
No, I haven't had any problems [with staff]. I mean, they're doing us a
favor being here. They work hard. Sometimes I feel that their job is
dangerous. I was talking with one of the staff the other night and she said
she was scared coming to work.
In fact, the staff's "niceness" helped decrease Virginia's stress: "They're all nice. I mean
it's nice being nice for me, it is. It causes less stress." Andrea attributed her good
relationship with the staff with the fact that she followed the rules. "And when they say
something I do it, I don't argue." Krystal saw the staff as both positive and negative:
"Some [of the staff frustrate me], but most of them now know how to work with me, so
Despite these positive aspects, all of the women were frustrated with at least one
aspect of the shelter. The two women (Cindy and Krystal) who had solely negative
things to say about their shelter, SA, also had a child at another shelter. All three
African-American women had mostly negative things to say about the shelter, though
Alison said a few positive things as well. Even though Virginia had a multitude of
negative things to say about the shelter, she greatly appreciated their rehabilitation
program: "This program really do work." The negative features ranged from food
problems to staff issues; from a change in their leisure to the stigma associated with being
in a shelter.
Their limited shelter options were a significant negative aspect of the shelters. In
both cities, there were no more than two shelters for people who are homeless, as well as
one shelter for women from domestic violence. The lack of shelters was brought up
multiple times by Alison:
What bothers me about [this city] is that [St Thomas] is the only shelter
for women and children... So if you're a woman with children and you
know if you can't get into [St Thomas] I don't know where you can go.
There's lots of rooming houses and boarding houses where you pay daily
and stuff but you know the people that are there you know you're putting
your life at risk...You know like I had to really swallow my pride to come
down here. But I had nowhere to go.
As Alison noted, often the reason for going to one of the few shelters was that the women
had exhausted other options. As Rachel said, "um, it really wasn't our first choice
because of the experience we had at the first one. But we had to financially." In Cindy's
case, "me and my boyfriend broke up and we had nowhere to go." Furthermore, Andrea
had been without a home before, but had never had to enter a shelter. She noted, "I've
got friends who would put me in their house if I had nowhere to go. But I've never been
on the street." She finally came to SA because her DCF case manager sent her there.
Food was a necessary function of the shelters, yet three women were dissatisfied
with the level of care given by the shelters. The mothers noted their concern about the
food she and her family were eating, or not eating. Tracy commented:
That lunchroom is very scary. It's not good. I understand the meaning of
not wasting food, but there is also not making a person sick: sandwiches
where the meat is rotten, salads that are way beyond being served, some
desserts are stale. It's good intentions.
Furthermore, Krystal was rather vexed that the inferior food was causing her daughter to
drastically lose weight. She stated that:
...a lot of times I don't eat what's over there, I just get a cup of coffee.
And the same thing she doesn't eat either, and that's why she's lost, she
had lost over six pounds, she's only down to 23 pounds now. And then of
course I can count on one hand how many times she's even gotten milk,
maybe four times since we've been here. So there isn't even milk there
for her. And of course the food and stuff, whatever they're serving, she
doesn't eat like 90 percent of it.
The way Alison talked about the shelter food made her friends pity her. She noted that "I
haven't had a decent home cooked meal, that I cooked. I'm not talking about, because
my friends they'll feel sorry for me and you know I complain that there's no meat at
[STH] and all we get is rice." So the women were rather frustrated by the food quality.
Another negative feature of the shelters was the staff. Although some of the
mothers had no problems with the staff, they had witnessed staff showing a bad attitude
on a consistent basis. All the mothers interviewed at STH had issues with the staff.
Alison explained, "the staff here, what kills me is that one day it's all rules and the next
day, it's like oh f--- the rules." Besides being a problem for the residents, the staff
members did not seem to get along with each other either. Tracy observed that
"everyone's on each other's throat because they're seeing what they can get or how
they're gonna get it." As a result of staff attitudes, Rachel and her daughters tried to
avoid staff. She stated, "um, when we're here and we see [the staff are] in a bad mood or
something, we try to keep to ourselves." Only Emily was hesitant to criticize the staff.
When asked if the staff rubbed her the wrong way, she replied "no, uhhh yea. Yes, some
of them are, because [they enforce the rules]."
As Emily commented, another common complaint about the shelters was the
rules. Only three mothers did not have a problem with the rules--Cindy, Virginia and
Rachel. Cindy and Virginia also had no problems with the staff. Cindy was focused on
the fact that her daughter was not with her, and did not talk about much else. Virginia
was at the shelter voluntarily for the substance abuse program, and she appreciated the
rules that kept her out of trouble. Finally, Rachel was an upbeat individual who refused
to let herself complain about her situation.
However, the other five mothers complained about the time schedule or their
dislike of the mandated 24-hour child supervision. Tracy was upset because her children
were unhappy with the rules: "They want to do things, but they have rules. Like they
have to be in bed by 10pm, but they want to stay up. They're not tired and it's not a
school night." Krystal was the most vocal about her displeasure:
No, this is, this is almost like you're in jail. Because you have to get up,
you have to be up like 5 or 5:30. You have to be out, go down the block
for breakfast, whether you want to eat or not, just to see that you're out.
You have to document every time you go out. And they have to know
where you're going... There's really no privacy in the bathrooms, there's
no locks on the stalls.
Only Emily and Krystal, both at SA, were overly bothered that they were required
to constantly watch their children. As Krystal explained:
Because you have to watch your child at all times, all 24 hours a day,
seven days a week. No one else here is allowed to help you, not another
person staying here, not a visitor, or anything. So at least before, you
know like my son would watch her, they'd be watching cartoons, he'd
color with her, or something like this. So with my son not here, it's almost
impossible to even wash up. So I have to wait until she goes to bed, and
sometimes I'm so exhausted from being up at that time that I just want to
go to sleep the same time that she does.
When discussing her life at the shelter, Emily noted that due to the rules, her children
were a frustration for her. She said this was because:
They have to be with me at all times. Sometimes that's a little...like if
they're sleeping, you can't go outside and smoke a cigarette. If there's
another mother back there you can't even so much as walk into the lobby
without your children. So that's a little frustrating.
The children's need for supervision hindered the mother's freedom. Cindy's complaint
was the opposite. She felt that she could not enjoy anything without her daughter. She
noted that "some days, like today, I got up and thinking about everything and it depressed
me. And I was in a bad mood. I just feel like I've lost everything. My little girl is by
The rules and available facilities at the shelters changed every mother's leisure
activities. Only Virginia's leisure changed for the better, as she was not able to drink or
do drugs while at the shelter. However, part of the other mothers' problems was having
to watch their children all the time. As Krystal explained, "o yea, I don't have any [free
time]." Emily had a similar problem: "I don't have much [leisure]. I'm with my kids
every day, all day. I don't really spend time with my friends. So uh, and using drugs is
not an option, especially coming back to the shelter." Because they had to watch their
children, their leisure was constrained.
For Alison it was different. She still had the time for leisure, but not for the
activities she used to do because she was with her child. She said:
Um yea, I know it has [changed]. Because I used to drink before coming
here. And I don't drink everyday now... But now I'm hanging out doing
different things, like going to the library, going to the garden. You know
that's like a leisure time going up to the little community garden with the
kids, believe it or not. Because I used to want a babysitter honey...
Her inability to engage in her preferred leisure activities was also due to the rules. When
asked what kept her from doing what she wanted to do, she replied:
Uh, right now, uh general rules. Because you have to sometimes be strict
in a place like this. Um, because like I'd like to sit out front of my house
and drink a beer. You know and when I get off work pop me a cold one
and have my plate and sit out there and play dominoes. You know it's
just, they really don't stop me from doing most of the things that I want to
do. I mean like I'd like to have my boyfriend come visit. You know, but I
can't have my boyfriend visiting my room. You know, things like that.
Andrea also was not able to engage in her previous leisure activities. Though she could
not articulate a change in her leisure, as she did not know what the word leisure meant,
the activities she used to enjoy included dancing, singing, and shopping.
Another reason for a change in leisure was the minimal leisure opportunities at
the shelter. For instance, Tracy commented, "I'm looking for more leisure things to do.
You know, and using what I got to work with. I think going and taking a shower is one
thing that I get to do." Moreover, Rachel's leisure changed because when she had a
home, she, as well as her children, had people over, was able to talk on the phone, or play
on the computer. Both Rachel and Tracy felt a lack of leisure resources.
The final negative feature of the shelters was the stigma associated with them.
Alison admitted, "you know like I had to really swallow my pride to come down here.
But I had nowhere to go." Additionally, Rachel did not want to be seen as "homeless,"
but as associated with a "home": "I, um, ok, I am a displaced homeworker, homemaker
and so I decided to go back to school. And I've been going to school and I've also been a
dislocated homeworker" (emphasis added).
Partly due to the social stigma, some residents tended to keep their distance from
the other residents. Rachel explained, "course we only sleep here and take showers and
just we eat and then we're off, we don't stick here long." Likewise, Tracy observed,
"because like I said, I keep a distance from people here. I notice the atmosphere and I
know it's bad. I keep to myself and I keep with my kids." Tracy also kept herself and her
children away from particular people or areas. She clarified, "we've been here like four
days now and it's very, very hard to adjust. If we just keep ourselves clear of certain
people, certain areas, it helps a little bit."
Another part of the stigma was simply being associated with the shelter. Alison's
discomfort at being seen as homeless flowed into her job hunting. She used a cell phone
and never told potential employers that she was homeless. She related:
When I interview I do not use [St. Thomas] as an address because I know
that if people know you stay here they really aren't too thrilled you know
because people are looking for diligence and they feel like, you know, [St.
Thomas] does a lot of good things but they're not providing services that
help us get off the streets. And I have separate numbers that I use uh for
my job search. You know the only people that call here you know are like
friends you know. I didn't even tell my family I was here.
Tracy also did not tell her family that she was without a home because she was too
The mothers saw the shelters as both a positive and a negative experience. The
shelter gave the women a room of their own, as well as some resources to improve their
lives. However, the shelters were also a source of frustration. The women were annoyed
with staff and vexed by their stringent rules. Cindy and Krystal were also upset by the
separation from their child. The women were also frustrated with the stigma they felt
associated with the shelter. As shown by their stories, though the shelters had positive
aspects, they were also a source of anxiety and stress.
As previously noted, there were a plethora of stressors plaguing the mothers who
were interviewed. As evidenced by the negative shelter aspects, the first, and most
significant, theme to emerge from the interviews was stress, particularly stress from
children, people, not having a job, and a lack of transportation. As Rachel noted, "um
you can get stressed out, you could get, it's hard to not have a home, somewhere you're
staying." As evidenced by their daily routines, all of the mothers were dealing with
multiple stressors. The extensive list includes the shelter staff, boredom, no job, the
needs of their childrenn, food, men, attitudes, rules, no money, no transportation, gossip,
being without a child, medical problems, and no family help, although Krystal claimed it
was "the whole situation, the entire situation." Furthermore, four of the mothers
mentioned boredom as a problem, including all of the African-American participants.
Additionally, five women each named not having ajob as a stressor. Alison (some
college education) named the most stressors (15), and Virginia (high school) and Cindy
(incomplete high school) each identified three, the least amount. As Alison stated, "so
you know, I need transportation, I need community services, need daycare, just needs,
needs, needs." Emily also had a list of stressors:
My children fighting, not working, not having money, not having money
to buy food, not having a vehicle to get around, not getting child support,
not getting any help from my mom.
Children were identified as a stressor for most of the mothers; though, Rachel and
Virginia were the exceptions. Rachel had older teen-aged children with whom she was
close, and Virginia did not have her children with her at the shelter. Overall, the mothers
worried about such things as their child's health, protecting them, and keeping them
For Alison "the most nerve-wracking thing is watching [her daughter] constantly
for threats and such." Tracy felt stress "when the kids cry for something." Moreover,
Krystal became upset when her daughter missed her son. She testified:
The second night we were here, she screamed and cried for an hour and a
half straight "brother, brother, brother." You would not believe, an hour
and a half straight, at the top of her lungs. Last Saturday, she got up at 12
o'clock midnight and cried "come on, let's go, let's go get brother" from
12 until three in the morning. So that doesn't leave too much time for any
kind of real sleep.
Obviously their children's well-being was important to the women, although time-
consuming and straining.
To alleviate supervision frustration, two women (Andrea and Krystal) at SA were
able to put their children into daycare. But even that reprieve did not lessen the stress
induced by their children. For example, Andrea's child was hyperactive, as she noted:
He has, he can't sit still and it's very hard for him to sit still and
understand because he's ADD. So, you know, but he's alright. He's my
only child, so I can handle him by myself. You know, but most of the
time it's kinda hard.
Although Krystal had been at the shelter for three weeks, her children had only spent a
few days in day care because both of them had become too sick to attend. And for
Krystal, dealing with the bills and worrying about money was another stressor. She said:
They can't be taken care of medically-wise right. Thank goodness they
have the health department. When we went to the doctor the other day,
luckily her father works there. The nurse asked who should I bill?
Where's her father? I said that he works there, so now he's getting billed
for it. I thought, you think you're getting away with only paying $130 a
month in child support, here's more for you. But with her brother, I get no
child support. His dad is number three on the dead beat dad list for [the
So even daycare was not much of a stress reliever for these women.
Despite the concerns voiced during the interview, when asked if their children)
was a source of joy or frustration, half of the mothers considered their children) to be a
joy. In fact Cindy cared so much about her daughter that she was devastated to be
without her and did not feel right enjoying activities alone. On the other hand, solely
Krystal considered her children to be only a source of frustration. She stated, "right now,
[they are a] frustration. I'm very frustrated because they can't be taken care of right,
can't be fed right. They can't be taken care of medically wise right." However, the rest
of the women saw their children as both ajoy as well as a frustration. In fact, Alison's
daughter was a source of inspiration. She claimed, "[Sara], she's a good child, she really
is. That's why I really, really strive." Alison was trying to improve her situation, not
only for herself, but for her daughter as well.
Besides their children, people were another noted stressor. Five of the mothers
preferred to avoid people or be by themselves. Tracy observed:
Um, I really don't find myself socializing with too many people. Just in
the few days I've been here, when I go out to smoke a cigarette, you
always got somebody talking about somebody else's business, or talking
about one of the staff members and how they did this or how they hate the
rules. Or what's going on, or who said this... and I'm not here to listen to
their complaints or hear their business. I have my own problems. I don't
need to hear any more depressing stories, you know?
As Tracy noted, when around people, the women were stressed by attitudes, gossip,
mental illness, and yelling and cursing. For example, Andrea stated that "girls here
frustrate me, you know? They kinda get on my nerves. Um I have a real bad anger
problem. But when people talk about me, I get very angry, I get upset. But I don't take it
out on nobody." Virginia's main stressor was "when someone curse or yells at me.
That'll trigger [my anger] real fast." Similarly, Alison attributed her dislike of people to
Um, attitude, attitudes. You know, we have a lot of people with mental
illness and so they come in and they brush you the wrong way. You come
in you can tell there is a lot of mental illness in [this city]. And uh I can
deal with it but sometimes it's the staff members.
The way stress was expressed by the people around the mothers was yet another source
More specifically, men were a stressor for three mothers. Alison commented that
"a lot of guys hit on me and I'm like no you know." In fact, Rachel was anxious due to
"having girls, and being a girl, you know being out there on the streets, you worry." For
Krystal, her "man problems" were a little different. She noted, "I have identity theft
going on from my ex-husband who's doing it. He uses my son's social security number,
plus whatever woman is going with him, she uses my social security number, plus our
Finally, half of the mothers had problems with the staff. When asked if any of the
staff rub her the wrong way, Emily replied, "yes, some of the staff because the kids have
to be with you at all times." In fact, Alison was evicted from the shelter because of her
attitude towards staff:
Sometimes you can tell when [the staff] have bad days because they will
ride you for any little thing. And uh you know they're just like you know
some days they're willing to work with you. But sometimes it seems like
these people are bipolar.
On the other hand, Tracy was irritated with the staff s attitudes towards each other.
Krystal had problems with "some [of the staff], but most of them now know how to work
with me, so they try." The mothers felt that the staff should have been a source of
comfort, but was instead something else that the mothers were forced to struggle with on
a daily basis.
Lack of Employment
People were not the only stressor endured by the mothers. Although none of the
mothers were working, only six of the mothers were frustrated with their lack of
employment. Virginia was not worried, as she was not allowed to work while in her
program. Cindy was also not upset, since all she wanted was bus tickets for her family to
get back to their home state. However, Andrea and Alison, both African-American with
only one child, were surprised at their inability to get a job, when in the past it had been
easy for them. Andrea lamented:
I'm very, I've never, I've always had a job. I've never, never didn't have
a job. I always worked. I mean I love to work, you know, to make that
money to support me and my child. It's so stressful right now that I don't
have a job.
In fact, Alison felt that looking for a job was "like I have a part-time job job-searching
and looking for housing and going to different programs and stuff." The lack of ajob
bothered Rachel because she believed that it was the reason they did not have housing.
Moreover, when Emily was asked is her lack of a job frustrated her, she replied that "yes,
I am. Very much so." Krystal's response to the same question seemed to sum up what
all the women were feeling: "the lack of ajob, not so much the lack of ajob, but the
whole situation." Evidently Krystal's stress was all encompassing.
Lack of Personal Transportation
Another noticeable frustration was the lack of transportation. Only two mothers
had vehicles--Tracy and Krystal. Despite that, only two other mothers complained about
transportation problems, and both were African-American with only one child. Alison
was unhappy about not having a car, as was Andrea. Andrea complained:
Cause I have to be here at a certain time to pick him up and I have a
certain time to be back in here. And that's kinda hard for me to do that
when I don't have a car and I always have to catch the bus and stuff like
that. That's why it's hard for me.
Having to rely on the bus system could be unreliable. Also, riding the bus potentially
meant crowded conditions which could be difficult with children.
Change in Stressors
Coming to the shelter meant a change in stressors for six of the women. Rachel
and Andrea thought that coming to the shelter did not result in a change of stressors. For
Cindy, this change was for the worse. She claimed she was not stressed before, "but now
everything gets on my nerves." She admitted that this was largely due to her daughter
being at another shelter. Additionally, Krystal's stress levels had increased. She noted
that she had heart palpitations the previous week during lunch when a fight almost broke
However, for the other four women, entering the shelter was a positive event. For
example, Tracy was able to think long-term instead of just daily survival. She said:
Uh, yea, I mean yea certain things. But with [my husband] now working,
and we're making progress, I'm just looking forward to that. I'm looking
for a long-term thing, I'm just looking over the rainbow thing. We know
we're going to get out of this. And I use that every day to give me
strength. I think about just what kind of place I want when I leave here.
Because that's the other thing we lost a lot in storage. I had just gotten a
new living room set, but I couldn't' afford storage because of my pay. So
we moved down here with nothing.
Emily also saw living at the shelter as a way to reorganize her life. She stated, "um, yes I
think [my stressors have changed]. Because I'm getting things accomplished that I didn't
when I was out there." She went on to say that "yes, yes I think my stress levels have
decreased since being here." Furthermore, the idea of safety was brought up again.
Alison noted, "well I do feel safer, even though with all the strange population around."
Despite the surrounding population, being at the shelter helped Virginia think through her
anger: "It's gotten better, much better. Because if I hadn't been here and it happened,
ain't no way I would have let [that guy] watch what he wanted to watch [on the TV]. So
it's gotten better, this program do work." Thus, for four of the women, the shelter was an
improvement in their lives.
To alleviate this plethora of stressors, the women engaged in multiple activities to
cope with their situation. The most common ways of coping were leisure-related--
reading, taking a walk, and spending time alone. Alison, Tracy, Virginia, and Krystal all
utilized each of those techniques at some point. At least one other woman also used each
of these techniques. Other ways of coping were smoking cigarettes, denial, talking,
praying, and listening to music. Virginia mentioned using the greatest number of
techniques, seven in all, and interestingly she mentioned the least amount of stressors.
Emily used the least number of techniques to cope--ignoring her problems or talking
about them to her friends. Furthermore, only Krystal and Emily's techniques changed
upon entering the SA. Krystal had previously exercised when stressors arose, but she had
not been able to since coming to the shelter. She could not articulate how she currently
coped with her stress. Emily used to abuse drugs as a way of coping with the stressors of
life, but at the time of the interview she was instead just talking to friends or trying "not
to think about things that stress [her] out."
An unnamed coping technique was support systems, especially family support.
For example, though Virginia had few coping techniques, she did not appear overly
stressed. However, she did mention her family was a crucial support and encouragement
to her, as were the people in her substance abuse program. Rachel drew strength and
encouragement from her family--"we've been sharing a lot. You know, whatever we've
gone through we share together, you know." Her daughters, as well as her church, were
vital for her strength and well-being. Furthermore, Alison had the complete support of
her daughter, and a few friends. Tracy also had familial support. Her husband and
children were supportive, though she had no friends outside of the shelter. Evidently
family support was important to these women.
The other women did not have family support, or at least the support they wanted.
For instance, Cindy had the support of her son, and she had support from other people--
"... I talk to different people. They got counselors at the [day shelter], and I talk to
them." However, she did not have her daughter and that devastated her, "I just feel like
I've lost everything." She had support, just not her daughter which was of utmost
importance to her. Andrea also had friends' help, but not family. In fact, she stated,
"I've got friends who would put me in their house if I had nowhere to go." Emily also
had friends who would occasionally help, but she was incredibly frustrated that she was
"not getting any help from my mom." Krystal also noted that she had no family help.
She refused to move back to her home state "because they wouldn't be of any help. My
father is dead. And the one who really raised me, my grandmother, is dead... But my
mother is an alcoholic and can't help." As evidenced, family support, or lack thereof,
had a significant effect on the mothers and their attitudes.
To cope with the stressors mentioned, all eight mothers engaged in leisure-related
activities. One way the mothers coped was by walking and getting outside to escape the
shelter environment. Tracy explained she would walk "when I'm stressed out or
something, I wander off to take off my frustration." On the other hand, Rachel would
take a walk with her daughters. She said: "that's why you know, that's why we've been
taking walks. When we walking we get some of the stress out." Alison's comment was
similar. She noted, "we're walking more, exploring more. You know, get out and get
away." Walking took the women physically away from the shelter and its stressors.
Moreover, many of the women read as another way of coping. They coped by
escaping into a book. Alison noted that when she got tired of people, she would "go in
[her] room, and stack all [her] books and read. And read and sleep and read and sleep."
Virginia could be found "reading, or listening to a Christ program on the radio" when she
wanted to relax. Emily and Cindy also used reading to relax. However, reading was not
always a guaranteed way of coping, as Krystal observed--"the only thing is that if I have
a book, but that's hit or miss. Like right now I don't have anything." Thus, when not
able to physically escape, the women would get away from their frustrations
Often, though, the women retreated into themselves, as Tracy noted, "I stay to
myself. Like I said I just try to let the time pass." She went on to say that she was able
to relax with "a couple minutes away from the kids. I've recently gotten into herbal teas.
Quietness. Pulling away from everything." Virginia enjoyed solitude as well. To cope
with her stress she noted that "I just I go off by myself. Sometimes I count, sometimes I
pray about it. Most of the time I pray about it, then count along with it as I'm doing the
prayer." Andrea also went off by herself to cope. She would "smoke a cigarette. But um
just listening to my music, smoking a cigarette or going to my room and being by
myself." Alison also smoked to cope with her stress. Five of the women handled their
frustrations by engaging in secluded activities.
However, not every mother liked to be by herself to de-stress. Rachel enjoyed the
company of her daughters, and drew strength from that. She said, "and you know as long
as we're together, and we talk to each other. We still have each other. I think that makes
a big difference also. Because you know, if you're by yourself." Cindy was also helped
by the presence of her child. She observed, "my son helps a bunch." She would also talk
people. Emily also talked through her problems, she would discuss them with her friends
and "they help me out." Evidently having people to talk to and share the experience with
were also important ways of coping.
While discussing leisure as a means of coping, two of the women discussed ideas
related to Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) flow theory. Both were residents at STH. Alison
experienced flow when she read. She explained, "I read and I get lost. I've been doing
that since I was little. I just shut everything out and I fall in that book and I'm right there
with the characters. You know?" Tracy also discussed flow:
[Leisure] just relaxes you, um, takes the stress off you. Because you're so
involved and enjoying what you're doing that for some reason, you forgot
all about your problems. Well if you're really into what you're doing and
enjoying it. Basically mine was baking. I'd just be so wrapped up that I
would wonder where the time went. I think leisure can really, if the
person is really concentrating and having a good time, they'll forget about
what was bugging them, or afterwards, they'll come up with a solution
about what was bugging them--'Oh, I could have done that. That would
have made it so easy.' You know?
Both women talked about getting so involved in an activity that they were able to forget
everything else. For them, leisure was the quintessential psychological escape.
Though leisure was often thought to be positive, it could be a negative experience,
either for the person engaging in leisure, or it could be negatively viewed by society
(Gunter & Gunter, 1980). For example, one night Alison was at a friend's engagement
party. Her daughter was at another friend's house, and Alison had called in, a little
drunk, to let the shelter staff know where she was. She stated that she had already gotten
permission from her case manager to stay out that night, but despite that, she was written
up by another staff member. Though Alison saw drinking as a positive experience, the
staff member thought her behavior to be reprehensible. Drugs had been a problem for
Emily, she "used to use drugs prior to coming [to SA]." She also admitted that if she had
free time at the shelter, she would get herself in trouble again with drugs, so she was
grateful that she was kept so busy. Both Alison and Emily were being socially
unacceptable, at least to one person. On the other hand, Cindy felt that her leisure at the
shelter was negative "because I miss my daughter." So the positive or negative
experience of leisure depended on the person's view of it.
Despite their use of leisure as a survival technique, only two mothers (Alison and
Virginia) stated that leisure had a role in their lives. Additionally, Cindy and Rachel
noted that leisure used to have a role in their lives prior to entering the shelter. Evidently,
the way the women viewed leisure influenced the perspective they had about its role in
Three of the women engaged in non-leisure activities as a way of coping. For
example, Andrea was in an anger management class and utilized techniques from her
class to help her remain calm. Emily felt that she did not use anything to help her with
her situation. She said, "um, I think I'm coping with my present situation pretty well. I
don't think anything is helping me cope with it but myself. Like I said I'm using this as a
positive experience and I'm not thinking anything negative." Rachel also felt that coping
was mental. Coping for her was:
you just have to be knowledgeable. You know, going in and saying, well,
we're not doing nothing to improve it or help ourselves. And we did
accomplish something, you know going out looking for jobs. And you
know as long as we're together, and we talk to each other. We still have
each other. I think that makes a big difference also
Another mental technique was denial. For example, Tracy did not wish to think in the
present, but wanted to look to the future:
I'm looking for a long-term thing, I'm just looking over the rainbow thing.
We know we're going to get out of this. And I use that every day to give
me strength. I think about just what kind of place I want when I leave
here... All I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep, pass the time away.
And then wake up and say this is all a dream.
Also, Rachel used comparison to deal with her circumstance--"um, its just um, I'm sure
we're thankful for all that, like in third world countries or other people who are homeless
don't even have that." As long as she focused on the idea that her situation was at least
slightly better than others, she could live with her life. Evidently, coping was also a
mental exercise, either conscious or subconscious.
The mothers used a variety of coping techniques to alleviate their multitude of
stressors, such as reading, walking, talking, and having a positive attitude. Their stressors
included people, specifically their children and staff, as well as a lack of personal
resources, such as money or a vehicle. However, although shelter life contributed to their
stress, living at the shelter was an improvement for most of the women.
Ethic of Care
Living at the shelter also allowed the women opportunities to live out an ethic of
care, the second theme affecting these mothers and their leisure. Having grown up in the
U.S., the mothers were inundated with images of women, especially mothers, as
caregivers, nurturers, and homemakers (Henderson, et al, 1996; Livson, 1981). This was
the identity that Rachel wanted to portray when she said, "I, um, ok, I am a displaced
homeworker, homemaker... and I've also been a dislocated homeworker." Generally
associated with an ethic of care is taking care of a house, as well as putting other's needs
first, especially children's needs (Gilligan, 1982). However, this ideology has been
documented as a key reason why women's leisure is so minimal or nonexistent (e.g.
Bialeschki & Michener, 1994; Harrington, Dawson, & Bolla, 1992; Horna, 1989;
Part of the ethic of care was housework, which two women (Virginia and Tracy)
spoke about, each from a different shelter. One aspect of housework they discussed was
laundry. For example, Virginia noted that something she enjoyed was helping with
giving out the clothing, even when it was not her week. Another facet of maintaining a
house was cleaning and keeping it neat. When asked what activities she engaged in that
she wanted to do, and did not have to do, Tracy talked about cleaning:
I can't stand a mess. Or even out there, they just make a mess and walk
by, they're disrespectful. I straighten up but I just know that it'll be a
mess again when someone walks by ... Maybe if one of the moms
needed some time, you know, watch their kids. Yea, I like helping moms
However, influencing their ethic of care, at least at the shelter, was a lack of something
else to do. Tracy also noted:
I just stay around here, keep up with the kids. As you can tell I keep
things pretty organized around here. Basically, right now, that's all I do.
I'm hoping in a few days, some time next week I'm going to go looking
for a job.
Though they enjoyed housework and chose to do it, not having something else to do was
a factor in their choice of activities.