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The role of structural violence in family homelessness



This study examines the impacts of structural violence on women and how this can influence their trajectory into and their sustainable exits from homelessness.


The research is qualitative and community-based, including 15 interviews with mothers living in emergency shelters and a group interview with nine professionals. An advisory group was formed through partnership with community services to provide project oversight and guide and interpret the results. A member check group consisting of seven mothers with recent experiences of homelessness was engaged to further refine findings and implications. The research team used Critical Social Theory, in particular feminist theory, as an analysis framework in order to account for the implications of structural violence on mothers with diverse and complex histories.


The results highlight three structural-level factors: gendered pathways into homelessness, systems of support that create structural barriers, and disjointed services that exacerbate trauma.


The authors propose systems-level changes rooted in trauma-informed approaches to facilitate a sustainable exit from homelessness for mothers and their children.



Examiner les répercussions de la violence structurelle sur les femmes et son influence possible sur leur cheminement vers l’itinérance et sur leur sortie durable de l’itinérance.


Notre étude qualitative et communautaire a comporté 15 entretiens avec des mères vivant dans des refuges d’urgence et un entretien de groupe avec neuf professionnels. Un groupe consultatif a été créé en partenariat avec des services de proximité pour assurer la supervision du projet et en guider et en interpréter les résultats. Un groupe de contrôle, composé de sept mères ayant vécu une expérience récente d’itinérance, a été recruté pour peaufiner les constatations et les conséquences de l’étude. L’équipe de recherche a utilisé la théorie sociale critique, en particulier la théorie féministe, comme cadre d’analyse pour tenir compte des conséquences de la violence structurelle sur les mères aux antécédents divers et complexes.


Les résultats font ressortir trois facteurs structurels : les cheminements genrés vers l’itinérance, les systèmes de soutien qui créent des obstacles structurels, et les services fragmentaires qui exacerbent les traumatismes.


Les auteures proposent des changements systémiques ancrés dans des démarches sensibles aux traumatismes pour favoriser une sortie durable de l’itinérance pour les mères et leurs enfants.

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The authors would like to thank our community partners for their guidance and feedback. We also thank our peer researchers for dedicating time and energy despite their complex and busy lives. Finally, we thank the mothers, whose expertise added sincerity and authenticity to our process and our project.


This work was supported by the Alberta Centre for Child Family and Community Research and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

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Correspondence to Katrina Milaney.

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The Conjoint Health Research Ethics Board at the University of Calgary approved this study (REB15-1765).

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Milaney, K., Lockerbie, S., Fang, X.Y. et al. The role of structural violence in family homelessness. Can J Public Health 110, 554–562 (2019).

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  • Family homelessness
  • Structural violence
  • Critical Social Theory


  • Sans-abrisme familial
  • Violence structurelle
  • Théorie sociale critique