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Later-Life Homelessness as Disenfranchised Grief

  • Victoria F. Burns (a1), Tamara Sussman (a2) and Valérie Bourgeois-Guérin (a3)


Although interest on older homelessness is gaining momentum, little research has considered the experiences of first-time homelessness from the perspective of older adults themselves. This constructivist grounded-theory study addresses this gap by exploring how societal perceptions of homelessness and aging shape access to housing, services, and perceptions of self for 15 older adults residing in emergency homeless shelters in Montreal, (Quebec, Canada). Findings revealed that homelessness evoked a grief response characterized by shock, despair, anger, and in some cases, relief. Connecting and receiving support from other shelter residents and staff helped participants to acknowledge and grieve their losses. However, difficult shelter conditions, the stigma associated with aging and homelessness, and not having their grief recognized or validated served to disenfranchise grief experiences. Conceptualizing later-life homelessness as disenfranchised grief contributes to the aging and homelessness literature while providing new avenues for understanding and validating the experiences of a growing population of vulnerable older adults.

Bien que l’itinérance chez les personnes âgées soit un sujet qui se soit développé ces dernières années, peu de recherches ont considéré les expériences des « nouveaux » itinérants plus âgés à partir de leur propre perspective. La présente étude, reposant sur la théorie constructiviste, vise à combler cette lacune en explorant les liens entre la perception sociétale de l’itinérance et du vieillissement, d’une part, et l’accès au logement et aux services, ainsi que la perception de soi, d’autre part, pour 15 personnes âgées vivant dans des refuges d’urgence pour sans-abris à Montréal (Québec, Canada). Les résultats démontrent que l’itinérance provoque une réaction de deuil caractérisée par le choc, le désespoir, la colère et, dans certains cas, le soulagement. Le fait d’entrer en contact et de recevoir de l’appui d’autres personnes vivant dans les refuges et du personnel sur place ont aidé les participants à reconnaître et à faire le deuil de leurs pertes. Cependant, les conditions difficiles de la vie en refuge, le stigma associé au vieillissement et à l’itinérance, et la non-reconnaissance ou l’absence de validation des expériences de deuil ont contribué à empêcher la reconnaissance du deuil. La conceptualisation de l’itinérance au grand âge comme un deuil non reconnu contribue aux études concernant le vieillissement et l’itinérance, et trace une nouvelle voie pour améliorer la compréhension et la validation des expériences d’une population vulnérable et âgée en croissance.


Corresponding author

La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à : / Correspondence and requests for offprints should be sent to: Victoria Burns, Ph.D. Assistant Professor University of Calgary, Faculty of Social Work PF 3220, 2500 University Drive NW Calgary, AB T2N 1N4 <>


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We thank all of the interviewees and community organizations that provided guidance and assistance with this study.



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