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Experiences of Homeless People in the Health Care Delivery System: A Descriptive Phenomenological Study


  • Diane Cocozza Martins

    1. Ph.D., R.N., is Assistant Professor, Community Health Nursing, College of Nursing, University of Rhode Island, White Hall, Kingston, Rhode Island
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Diane Cocozza Martins, 64 Crowfield Drive, Warwick, RI 02888. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Objective: The objective of this research is to understand the experiences of homeless people with the health care system.

Design: A descriptive Phenomenological research design is used. Phenomenology is the philosophical underpinning of this research.

Sample: The purposive sample consists of 15 homeless adults.

Method: Interviews were conducted, tape-recorded, transcribed, and then analyzed the transcripts using Colaizzi's descriptive phenomenological method.

Results: 4 major themes emerged: (1) living without essential resources compromises health; (2) putting off health care until a crisis arises; (3) encountering barriers to receiving health care to include (a) social triage, (b) feeling labeled and stigmatized, (c) a nonsystem for health care for the homeless, (d) being treated with disrespect, and (e) feeling invisible to health care providers; and (4) developing underground resourcefulness.

Conclusions and Implications: Although homeless persons articulated many problems in the health care system encounters, they also described their own resourcefulness and the strategies they employ to manage being marginalized by society and the health care system. An increased understanding of health care experiences from the homeless persons' perspective can guide public health nursing emancipatory actions.

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