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Women and Homelessness: A Biographical Pathways Analysis

Research Staff

Dr. Paula Mayock (Principal Investigator)

Sarah Sheridan (Research Assistant)

About the Project


In Ireland, women form a significant, if largely unremarked, sub-group of the homeless population, with the most recent assessment of homelessness in Dublin revealing that 32% of homeless adults (746 individuals) were female (Homeless Agency, 2008). Yet despite the significant (and perhaps underestimated) numbers of homeless women, there has been little up-to-date research these women's lives. As a consequence, homeless women remain largely invisible within dominant discourses on homelessness in Ireland, with accounts of their lives often reduced to conjecture and stereotyping. This situation is undesirable, not least because it legitimates a perspective on homelessness which fails to recognise the unique experiences and factors that propel women to leave home and/or to remain homeless.

What did the research focus on?

This study aimed to generate an in-depth understanding of the processes associated with women's encounters with homelessness, how they negotiate these experiences, and the manner in which they cope - either negatively or more positively - with their extreme marginalisation. It sought to integrate theory and methods from a number of disciplinary traditions including sociology, social policy and anthropology.

The specific research objectives included:

  1. the investigation of women’s homeless ‘pathways’, that is, their entry routes to homelessness, the homeless experience itself and, possibly, their exit routes from homelessness;
  2. an investigation of the structural and individual factors that impact on women’s housing/homeless trajectories or ‘careers’;
  3. an exploration of women’s approaches to help-seeking and their interactions and experiences with services; and
  4. the development of recommendations to inform community-based prevention and care models that reduce the risk of poor social and public health outcomes among homeless women.

What did the research involve?

The study adopted a biographical approach in seeking to understand the nature and ‘shape’ of women’s homeless ‘careers’. Rather than tracing only a person’s housing history, it attempted to construct multiple biographies by capturing transition and change, along the same timeline, in a person’s personal, social and economic circumstances.

A cross-sectional research design, integrating biographical interviewing and ethnographic observation, was employed. 60 women were recruited from strategically chosen sites including hostels, street-based settings and other unstable living situations nationally. Seventeen of the sixty study participants were migrant women. Critically, the use of ethnographic observation increases the study’s validity by supplementing and triangulating data garnered from the cross-sectional interviews.

The study was conducted in Dublin, Cork, and Galway.

Final products of the research

The data collection phase of this research is currently complete. A Public Seminar on Women and Homelessness was held on February 23rd, 2012, at which selected findings of the research were presented. Two Research Papers documenting key dimensions of the research findings were also launched at this event: Public Seminar - Women and Homelessness in Ireland.pdf (1.13MB)

Data analysis and dissemination related to this research will be ongoing for some time. Sarah Sheridan, who was Research Assistant to the project, is currently doing her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Paula Mayock. Her PhD research seeks to 'track' the women who participated in this biographichal study with the aim of tracing their trajectories through and out of homelessness.

The two research papers are now available to download in pdf. format:

1. Women's 'Journeys' into Homelessness: Key Findings from a Biographical Study of Homeless Women in Ireland

2. Migrant Women and Homelessness: Key Findings from a Biographical Study of Homeless Women in Ireland

The presentation delivered by Paula Mayock and Sarah Sheridan at the Public Seminar 'Women and Homlessness in Ireland' is available to view here:

'Key Findings from a Biographical Study of Homeless Women'

Funded By

Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) Research Fellowship Scheme, 2009-10 and the Health Service Executive.

Last updated 23 May 2012 by The Children′s Research Centre (Email).