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Sandra Rasmussen


Homeless women demonstrate higher rates of mental illness than homeless men. The combination of complex life circumstances, stigmas related to mental illness, and homelessness may cause homeless women with mental illnesses to face unique barriers that prevent them from accessing necessary mental health services. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to expand the body of literature on homeless women's experiences with the mental health system and to understand the barriers to treatment services. Guided by Young's critical social theory of gender, this study was designed to develop a better understanding of the support that may be in place to help women overcome service access barriers related to social issues of race, class, sexuality, and gender. Study participants included 10 chronically homeless adult women in the Southeastern United States who were diagnosed with a mental illness. In-person semistructured, open-ended, phenomenological interview questions were used to explore the research questions. Thematic analysis revealed 5 main themes: (a) reasons for homelessness, (b) reasons women stay homeless, (c) mental health experiences and issues, (d) experiences with being homeless, and (e) services and supports. There were 3 subthemes associated with services and supports: (a) the shelter experience, (b) services that are needed, and (c) professionals should know. Understanding women's unique backgrounds and histories may help service providers and policy makers develop ways to make mental health services more accessible to the homeless women who need them.