Do people choose to be homeless? An existentially informed hermeneutic phenomenological analysis

Simon Wharne (The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom)

Housing, Care and Support

ISSN: 1460-8790

Publication date: 21 December 2015



Homeless populations are a politically contentious problem and researchers struggle to achieve a balanced approach. They place emphasis on sharply contrasting factors, such as; institutional structures, ideologies or individual dispositions and differences. Central questions remain unanswered, i.e., is homelessness an outcome of society’s failings related to housing shortages, or a personal choice, as in the status of “intentional homelessness?” The purpose of this paper is to set aside assumptions, to explore experiences of homelessness and psychosis.


An existentially informed hermeneutic phenomenological analysis; exploring transcribed narratives from semi-structured interviews with three men.


These participants started to wander as a spontaneous response to distressing life experiences. Without any plan they travelled to new locations living on the street. Being contained and treated against their will in the psychiatric system was another source of distress. They did not choose homelessness through a rational calculation of their best interests. They felt at odds with society, which did not protect them and failed to meet their needs.

Research limitations/implications

In qualitative research, findings are not generalisable to other settings.

Practical implications

Homeless services should be enhanced by psychological expertise along with more person-centred emphatic approaches; the authors of social policies should consider their philosophical assumptions.

Social implications

Systemised mental healthcare does not solve complex problems; fails to meet needs.


The analysis informs the design of further research, prompts practitioners to review their understandings and provides grounds for the rewriting of policies.



Wharne, S. (2015), "Do people choose to be homeless? An existentially informed hermeneutic phenomenological analysis", Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 18 No. 3/4, pp. 101-112.

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