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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Illness narratives of people who are homeless

Cecilia Håkanson, Joakim Öhlén
International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being 2016, 11: 32924
27914194
Multiple illnesses are common in all homeless populations. While most previous studies have focused on experiences of mental illness, there is a scarcity of studies about experiences of bodily illness among people who are homeless. This study aimed to explore illness narratives of people who are homeless, and how homelessness as a social context shapes the experience of multiple and/or advancing somatic conditions. The design was a qualitative single-case study, using interpretive description. Data were generated through interviews, with nine participants who were homeless rough sleepers in Stockholm, Sweden, recruited while receiving care in a support home for homeless people with complex care needs. The findings revealed experiences of illness embedded in narratives about falling ill, being ill, and the future. The particularity of these illness narratives and the way that they are shaped by homelessness give rise to several observations: the necessity of a capable body for survival; chaos and profound solitude in illness and self-care management; ambiguous feelings about receiving care, transitioning from independence, and "freedom" in the streets to dependency and being institutionalized; and finally, the absence of hope and desire for recovery or a better future. The narratives are discussed from the perspective of Frank's four types of illness stories (restitution, chaos, quest, and testimony). The findings stress that to provide appropriate care and support to people who are homeless and have multiple and/or advancing somatic conditions, health care professionals need to be informed both about the individual's biography and about the circumstances under which illness and self-care takes place in the streets.

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