Pathways to homelessness, and attitudes toward night shelter use for homeless men in Denver, Colorado

Lux, Thomas
Major Professor
Gloria Jones-Johnson
Committee Member
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According to the literature there are typically personal causes to homelessness such as a mental illness or drug dependency; coupled with structural forces such as unemployment, or residential dislocation. During the 19th and 20th centuries, overnight shelters were constructed to house homeless citizens. These facilities were dirty and overcrowded, and they did not help the homeless to improve their lives. More recently researchers studied shelter usage and found that homeless individuals felt stigmatized by staff, and trapped by authoritarian rules.

The first purpose of this study was to identify paths to homelessness for homeless men in metro Denver, Colorado. The second purpose was to ascertain why some homeless men have negative attitudes toward utilizing night shelters. In this ethnographic study, I conducted in-depth interviews and field research with 20 homeless men. This occurred at two homeless day shelters in Denver. Snowball sampling was used to identify participants for the study who were 18 years of age and who self-identified as homeless. Since I volunteered at one of these homeless shelters, I was able to establish rapport with many of the homeless men.

In addition to open-ended interview questions, probing was used to gain clarity on the participant's meaning to questions. The study used open and focused coding to identify major themes in the data. The major themes that provide insight into pathways to homelessness for this study are: "Barriers to housing", "Lack of Employment", and "Being independent while homeless is more important than accepting housing from family or friends." The themes that speak to the negative attitudes toward Denver night shelter use are: "Night shelters have too many strict and unnecessary rules", "Shelter staff is disrespectful to homeless men", and "Shelter guests are disruptive."

Symbolic interactionism and conflict theories are used to interpret the findings of this study. Future research on homeless men needs to focus on the impact of age on pathways to homelessness and how age impacts attitudes toward night shelter use. In addition, it is important to include racial/ethnic, nationality, and women and members of the LGBT community in future studies of the homeless population.