Making the Transition to Sustaining a Permanent Home Possible for Families Who Have Been Homeless: An Occupational Perspective

Mace, Jennifer
Hocking, Clare
Waring, Marilyn
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Home is where our basic needs and meaningful occupations are enabled, and where the structure of our day begins and ends. For far too many New Zealand families, home is in a car, emergency, or transitional housing where carrying out daily tasks and routines is a major challenge. For a family to be able to flourish and function at their full potential, and maintain their physical and psychological health, they need an environment that facilitates what they want and need to do.

An occupational perspective on what makes the transition to sustaining a home possible for families who have experienced homelessness is at the core of what this study is about. A partnership was developed with Visionwest, a local community housing provider, to conduct an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) into what works from the perspectives of homeless families and service providers. The generative and social constructionist leanings of AI were underpinned by John Dewey’s pragmatism, Amartya Sen’s capability theory, and an occupational perspective which bought to light the importance of how our homes enable our everyday doings and beings.

Four families and nine staff from across Visionwest were purposively recruited into the study. Each family participated in the 4-stage appreciative inquiry process of: discovery, dreaming, design, and destiny. Initial analysis of the interviews with the families was used to generate preliminary findings that were then used to inform the inquiry process with staff who participated in a 1-day workshop, again following the 4-D process.

Reflexive thematic analysis across the dataset generated three main themes: 1) a good place for us, 2) what we want and need to do and be, and 3) belonging to a community. Together, these themes reveal how families transact with their environments, activities, and communities on the journey to settling in a new home. The findings provide service providers with first-hand knowledge of what spaces, meaningful activities, opportunities, and support are required to help people satisfy their needs as they learn to sustain their new homes. What service providers and policymakers can take from this research is that the issues for homeless families extend beyond adequate housing to a decent standard of living that enables community participation.

Insights for researchers arising from the study include recognising children’s capacity to dream about their futures, and the part that a permanent and safe home plays in those aspirations. The utility of AI research methods in this study supports its future application in giving people in vulnerable circumstances a voice to inform the development of policies and services that will work for them. In addition, an occupational perspective is recommended as a vantage point from which to generate research that focuses on building people’s capabilities to thrive.

In the spirit of AI, this study concluded with a bold propositional statement. To sustain a home, families who have experienced homelessness need both the right to adequate housing and the right to an adequate standard of living where basic needs are met and families can do and be what they aspire to be.

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