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Keywords:

  • homelessness;
  • gender;
  • mental illness;
  • substance abuse;
  • trauma

In-depth interviews were conducted with 13 formerly homeless mentally ill women to capture their individual life trajectories of mental illness, substance abuse, and trauma in their own words. Cross-case analyses produced 5 themes: (a) betrayals of trust, (b) graphic or gratuitous nature of traumatic events, (c) anxiety about leaving their immediate surroundings (including attending group treatment programs), (d) desire for one's own space, and (e) gender-related status loss and stigmatization. Findings suggest formerly homeless mentally ill women need (and want) autonomy, protection from further victimization, and assistance in restoring status and devalued identity. Avenues for intervention include enhanced provider training, addressing experiences of betrayal and trauma, and more focused attention to current symptoms rather than previous diagnoses.