UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Finding the way home : a response to the housing needs of the homeless women of the Downtown Eastside Nesbitt, Jane Wycliffe


The term "homeless" calls to mind images of unfortunate derelicts wandering the streets by day and sleeping in makeshift settings by night. It is argued here that our "homeless" problem in Canada is of a nature and extent far beyond what we generally perceive to be the case. Homelessness is difficult to address without a clear and working understanding of this phenomenon. As a foundation for an intervention, this thesis addresses the concealed and misapprehended problem of homelessness in our society. Key components of the study are clear definitions of "home" and "homeless". The social, political, economic, and ideological context of homelessness is explored in an attempt to understand why anyone in a country as generally wealthy as Canada could be without a home. The study includes an examination of the issues related to the homeless predicament in general. The five factors which have been identified as contributing to homelessness - poverty and unemployment, poor health, social problems, and the shortage of low cost housing, are examined to provide a clear view of the problem, and to be used as tools in the provision of a response. It is believed that none of the factors which contribute to homelessness can be viewed in isolation. Each aspect of the phenomenon is often intimately related to the others and any solutions must therefore be fitted to respond to the range of contributing factors. The predicament of the homeless women of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is the selected area of focus of this work. The community of the Downtown Eastside is the area where most of Vancouver's homeless population is concentrated. A close look at this vital and often misunderstood community of about 10,000 people serves to further clarify what a responsive intervention might include. The reality and needs of the women of the Downtown Eastside, who make up about 20% of the population of the community, are not widely understood. The search for understanding led to participatory involvement with feminist and advocacy groups concerned with addressing the problems of these women. One outcome of this involvement was an extensive but informal survey of sixty female residents of the Downtown Eastside, which took the form of a "guided conversation". These discussions produced valuable information with respect to living conditions and personal circumstances, and yielded clear insights as to preferences and needs of these women. The principal objective of the study is to develop a facility program for a project meant to respond to the array of needs of the disadvantaged and/or distressed homeless women of the Downtown Eastside. The importance of viewing such a project as a part of an existing network of supports in the area is clearly appreciated, and thus the network has been examined with some care. The principal resources already in place in the Downtown Eastside which respond to physical, mental, and social health problems; to poverty, and to the need for housing, have been briefly described. Links with such existing resources are meant to be an integral part of the proposed specific solution. Appropriate models have been recommended which would serve to fill gaps in the existing network, where such gaps have been identified. The outcome of the exploration is a program for a first stage housing project, tailored to meet the needs of the women without homes in the Downtown Eastside. The project responds as comprehensively as possible to the factors which have contributed to their painful situation. The intervention is meant to serve as an initial step on the path to a home.

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