Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


College of Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Naomi Farber


“…he succeeded in giving the impression of being broke but not without hope.”

Nels Anderson, The Hobo, 1923

Introduction: This research offers a thick and rich, multidimensional and situational look, into a Housing First program in Charlotte, North Carolina. This dissertation focuses on individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness who exit Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) programs that employ a Housing First (HF) model and return to homelessness. The ultimate goal of my research was to address the gap in knowledge service providers have in housing retention for the chronically homeless and to break the cycle of misunderstanding around why people return to homelessness. In order to understand why individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness may assimilate to a street culture, exit housing, and return to homelessness I explored Social Disaffiliation Theory (SDT) and Human Motivation Theory (HMT).

Research questions: 1. What individual factors influence exits from Housing First programs among individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness? 2. What program factors influence exits from Housing First programs among individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness?

Methods: This study’s methodology is a qualitative inquiry that uses certain ethnographic techniques. The combination of prolonged engagement, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and field observations enabled me to examine and analyze what individual and program factors contribute to people leaving housing and returning to homelessness. I conducted two pilot studies that provided an avenue for community engagement in Mecklenburg County.

Findings: Participants exited HousingWorks for multiple individual and programmatic reasons. Findings reveal that individuals in the chronically homeless population disaffiliate from mainstream society, however connect to a society on the margins. While living as a member outside of mainstream society the basic needs of the chronically homeless population are met and meaning is fostered through relationships. All exits in this study were tied to relationships individuals had with friends, family (of choice and biological), romantic partners, case managers, and neighbors. The relationships that impacted exits were sometimes strained connections with case managers or neighbors, but also favorable associations that provided desired bonds that were not being fostered in HousingWorks.

Included in

Social Work Commons