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Shelter as Sanctuary: A Narrative Inquiry of the Experience of Homelessness

Gilkey, So'Nia L. (2008) Shelter as Sanctuary: A Narrative Inquiry of the Experience of Homelessness. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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What is the meaning of homelessness and how does it translate into a better understanding of what the experience of homelessness represents? Exploring the experiences of those who are homeless and the meaning of those experiences is essential when attempting to gain insight and improve service response to those who are homeless. Narrative inquiry is used in this dissertation to tell a story of homelessness from social and personal perspectives. Ultimately, my own understanding of the social and personal dictate the story of homelessness presented in this narrative. It provides an opportunity to better understand what it means to be homeless, why individuals seek shelter, and what can happen when individuals living a homeless experience are called upon to experience their lives in their own words. What is revealed through the personal stories suggest a need for sanctuary. Sanctuary in this narrative represents respite, security, a place to decide next steps, and ultimately, for a few, a place for transition. An emergency shelter program for the homeless comes to represent sanctuary for the twenty participants in this study. It is during this experience of sanctuary that participants come to "confirm, resist, and eventually maintain or transform the accepted norm" (Richardson, 2001, p. 37) of what it means to live in a homeless circumstance. The internalized cultural self (Swandt, 1999) emerges as the dominant influence in telling the story of homelessness, both on the part of study participants and that of the author. Sanctuary emerges as a key theme from the personal stories, but the act of self-reflection when telling one's story becomes the catalyst for a new thinking about how participants view their homeless circumstance and their life experiences. That self-reflection proves to be an unexpected invitation to the reconstruction of one's personal story of homelessness, and an invitation for me to consider a different kind of service response. It is in this narrative, the beginning of an alternative model for emergency shelter services, where opportunties for sanctuary or respite are discussed as key needs for participants of this study. In addition, a proposed sanctuary model of service intervention is presented, where traditional emergency services are available, but with a caveat of service support that elicits the personal stories of those who are willing to reconstruct their life experiences and begin the process of narrating a different experience that holds transitional implications for their current homeless circumstance.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Gilkey, So'Nia
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSales, Esthersales@pitt.eduSALES
Committee CoChairPiantinida, Mariamariap@pitt.eduMARIAP
Committee MemberGreeno,
Committee MemberKoeske, Gary Fgkoeske@pitt.eduGKOESKE
Committee MemberSchofield, Janetschof@pitt.eduSCHOF
Date: 18 August 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 4 June 2007
Approval Date: 18 August 2008
Submission Date: 13 August 2008
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Social Work > Social Work
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: experience; homeless; narrative inquiry; narrative practice; qualitative; respite; sanctuary; self-reflection; sheltering
Other ID:, etd-08132008-082510
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:49


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