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There's no place like (a) home: Ontological security among persons with serious mental illness in the United States


  • Padgett, Deborah K.


As the homelessness 'crisis' in the United States enters a third decade, few are as adversely affected as persons with serious mental illness. Despite recent evidence favoring a 'housing first' approach, the dominant 'treatment first' approach persists in which individuals must climb a ladder of program requirements before becoming eligible for an apartment of their own. Drawing upon the concept of 'ontological security', this qualitative study examines the subjective meaning of 'home' among 39 persons who were part of a unique urban experiment that provided New York City's homeless mentally ill adults with immediate access to independent housing in the late 1990s. The study design involved purposively sampling from the experimental (housing first) group (N=21) and the control (treatment first) group (N=18) and conducting two life history interviews with each participant. Markers of ontological security--constancy, daily routines, privacy, and having a secure base for identity construction--provided sensitizing concepts for grounded theory analyses designed to also yield emergent, or new, themes. Findings revealed clear evidence of the markers of ontological security among participants living in their own apartments. This study expands upon previous research showing that homeless mentally ill persons are capable of independent living in the community. The emergent theme of 'what's next' questions and uncertainty about the future points to the need to address problems of stigma and social exclusion that extend beyond the minimal achievement of having a 'home'.

Suggested Citation

  • Padgett, Deborah K., 2007. "There's no place like (a) home: Ontological security among persons with serious mental illness in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(9), pages 1925-1936, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:64:y:2007:i:9:p:1925-1936

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Chan, Dara V. & Gopal, Sucharita & Helfrich, Christine A., 2014. "Accessibility patterns and community integration among previously homeless adults: A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 142-152.
    3. Rory Coulter & Michael Thomas, 2019. "A new look at the housing antecedents of separation," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 40(26), pages 725-760.
    4. Gibson, Barbara E. & Secker, Barbara & Rolfe, Debbie & Wagner, Frank & Parke, Bob & Mistry, Bhavnita, 2012. "Disability and dignity-enabling home environments," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 211-219.
    5. Samuels, Gina Miranda, 2009. "Ambiguous loss of home: The experience of familial (im)permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(12), pages 1229-1239, December.
    6. Keene, Danya E. & Guo, Monica & Murillo, Sascha, 2018. "“That wasn't really a place to worry about diabetes”: Housing access and diabetes self-management among low-income adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 197(C), pages 71-77.
    7. Rosenberg, Alana & Keene, Danya E. & Schlesinger, Penelope & Groves, Allison K. & Blankenship, Kim M., 2021. "“I don't know what home feels like anymore”: Residential spaces and the absence of ontological security for people returning from incarceration," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 272(C).
    8. Alaazi, Dominic A. & Masuda, Jeffrey R. & Evans, Joshua & Distasio, Jino, 2015. "Therapeutic landscapes of home: Exploring Indigenous peoples' experiences of a Housing First intervention in Winnipeg," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 30-37.
    9. Wells, Kathleen & Marcenko, Maureen O., 2011. "Introduction to the Special Issue: Mothers of children in foster care," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 419-423, March.
    10. Hearne Rory & Murphy Mary, 2018. "An absence of rights: Homeless families and social housing marketisation in Ireland," Administration, Sciendo, vol. 66(2), pages 9-31, May.
    11. Deborah Quilgars & Nicholas Pleace, 2016. "Housing First and Social Integration: A Realistic Aim?," Social Inclusion, Cogitatio Press, vol. 4(4), pages 5-15.

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