Health care experiences of homeless people

Date of Completion

January 2003


Health Sciences, Nursing|Health Sciences, Public Health




The streets of the cities of America are home for one to three million people on any night or day. This is the homeless population. Homeless people encounter many obstacles when attempting to access and receive health care. Conditions associated with homelessness have a profound effect on an individual's ability to maintain good health, to get treatment when health is compromised, and to recover even after treatment is received. Studies have shown that homeless existence compromises physical health and that the stigma of being homeless creates a barrier to health care for the homeless. The obstacles involved in accessing and receiving health care for the homeless person are many. The phenomenon of health care experiences of homeless people is the focus of this study. Colaizzi's (1978) phenomenological method is used to investigate this phenomenon. In this method the homeless person became a participant in their own research. The research question for the study addressed the essential structure of the lived experience of homeless people with the health care delivery system. A purposive sample of 15 homeless adults was interviewed. Their interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, analyzed for significant statements and formulated meanings. The eight themes that emerged from the analysis of the formulated meanings were (1) lack of resources to be healthy, (2) putting off health care until a crisis arises, (3) social triaging in health care services, (4) feeling labeled and stigmatized, (5) surviving a non-health care system for the homeless, (6) being treated with disrespect, (7) feeling invisible to health care providers, and (8) developing underground resourcefulness. The findings may provide increased awareness, understanding, and knowledge of the homeless person's health care experiences by health care providers. This knowledge may be used for policy development and emancipatory nursing actions. ^