Date of Award

Summer 2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Melchert, Timothy

Second Advisor

Edwards, Lisa

Third Advisor

Campbell, Todd

Abstract

Homelessness is a pervasive and problematic phenomenon, and programs designed to assist individuals experiencing homelessness and reduce homelessness face a number of challenges. One such challenge involves difficulty engaging and retaining clientele experiencing homelessness in supportive services (Bhui et al., 2006; Ng & McQuistion, 2004; Padgett et al., 2008). The literature suggests that one explanation for this difficulty may involve the stigmatization experiences that individuals facing homelessness accumulate over time; previous studies have indicated that holding a marginalized position in society may make individuals experiencing homelessness more reluctant to engage in services (because of social rejection fears) and/or more sensitive to injustices that sometimes occur within homeless assistance programs (Bhui et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2007; Leipersberger, 2007; Padgett et al., 2008). However, the overall relationship between stigmatization and the psychosocial functioning of individuals facing homelessness has rarely been investigated empirically.

The purpose of the current study, therefore, was to explore how a specific subgroup of the homeless population experiences and responds to multiple sources of stigmatization: African American men facing chronic homelessness and co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. Grounded theory research methodology (Corbin & Strauss, 2008) was used to examine this topic from the perspective of men participating in mental health/substance-related counseling at a homeless shelter and maintaining abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Twelve men participated in individual interviews during which they were asked to discuss their experiences being stigmatized, the perceived impact of stigmatization on their psychosocial functioning, coping strategies they employ in response to stigmatization, and treatment-seeking behaviors.

Results revealed that (a) the participants have been multiply stigmatized, (b) they perceive the stigma of homelessness as the most difficult stigma with which to contend, and (c) they believe it is more difficult to be stigmatized for multiple reasons than for a single reason alone. Results also indicated that the impact of stigmatization on the participants' lives has changed over time (from disempowerment to empowerment) and that the participants have altered their stigmatization coping strategies (from unhelpful and destructive to helpful and constructive). Findings, implications, and limitations of the current study are discussed. Directions for future research are recommended.

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