Mothers with mental illness experiencing homelessness: a critical analysis


S. Benbow, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON N6A 5C1, Canada, E-mail:


Accessible summary

This study explored the structural forces shaping the health of mothers with mental illness experiencing homelessness, as well as their individual acts to overcome existing barriers. The findings indicated that:

  • Mothers experienced discrimination based on their homelessness status, mental illness, income source and/or motherhood status in their attempts to seek housing and obtain employment.
  • • Mothers felt ‘stuck’ in a never-ending cycle. However, they demonstrated great resilience, strength and perseverance despite facing incredible hardships.
  • • Nurses are in unique positions to advocate for this group, but must first recognize and become aware of the extensive structural barriers faced by these women.


The experiences of homeless mothers with mental illness were examined from the critical perspective of feminist intersectionality. The purpose of this study was to unveil experiences of oppression and resistance in the lives of homeless mothers with mental illness, while learning from them what is conducive to their health. A qualitative secondary analysis was done using focus group transcripts from a study examining issues related to diversity and homelessness for psychiatric survivors and a study on mental health and housing. A purposive sample of 7 focus groups comprised of 67 participants was used for this study. Findings revealed three overarching themes: (1) discrimination based on intersecting social identities; (2) being stuck: the cycle of oppression; and (3) we're not giving up: resistance through perseverance. The contextual influences of mothering while homeless with a mental illness were emphasized in the results. The findings illuminate the need for increased on ongoing advocacy at individual and structural levels.