Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Lea Caragata

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


There are many interacting factors that influence our response to social problems and needs in our communities. The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to the discursive literature about the nature of homelessness and to understand how it is that individuals develop their own personal theories about contributing factors and interventive strategies. The thesis uses grounded theory methods to explain the attitudes of the members of five focus groups that were comprised of homeless individuals, service providers, and community members. Focus group participants provided their ideas about both the contributing factors that lead to homelessness and possible interventive strategies to reduce homelessness. Some of the common etiological factors that the focus groups identified are: level of poverty; education/change in the labour market force; family breakdown; choice; and, individual psychopathology. Analysis of the proposed interventive strategies revealed three central themes that focus group participants believed would reduce homelessness. They are: housing; public education; and, a commentary on the “bandaid” of basic needs that are currently provided. What is also apparent, however, is that there are many dimensions that contribute to one’s understanding of the nature of homelessness. Participants in the focus groups provided a glimpse of their personal theories about homelessness and related social policy issues. These have been labelled “mediating factors” and have been delineated into four sub-categories of personal, experiential, professional and societal mediating factors. They provide a link between what an individual thinks contributes to homelessness, and what they think should be done about it. The thesis describes a model of: Contributing Factors x Mediating Factors = Interventive Strategies. This model can be understood through the use of a framework of social welfare policy. Concepts of social welfare interact with one another; as such, there is no one definitive approach to social welfare policy. Residual and institutional theories of social welfare exist as independent constructs but both play a role in influencing the development of social policy. If one conceives of residual and institutional approaches to social welfare as providing the macro-theoretical base in which to ground policy, the notions of deserving (institutional) and undeserving (residual) interact at the individual level, defining personal theories about the nature of social problems. The paper understands both the macro (institutional/residual) and micro (deserving/undeserving) approaches to social welfare as encompassing the model that describes how individuals conceive of homelessness. Contributing factors, mediating factors and interventive strategies are not discrete entities; rather, they interact with one another. This study offers a way of discerning how it is that individuals construct their own theories about homelessness and other social problems. Understanding that there are lenses through which responses to homelessness and social problems are mediated can facilitate how it is that interventions are developed.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Social Work Commons