Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Oudshoorn, Abe


BACKGROUND: Homelessness among refugees continues to be a growing issue in Canada. Recent reports indicate the rapidly growing population of refugees, most especially refugee claimants, accessing emergency shelters in Canada. Research to date has been limited on how the diversity of factors, such as refugee’s mental health experiences, could potentially play a role as pathways to shelter. The purpose of this study therefore is to explore the mental health experiences of refugees through their pathways to homelessness in Canada.

METHODS: This study, a secondary analysis, is framed within the critical theoretical perspective and an intersectional lens. The study sample included 15 participants who were all refugee claimants residing in emergency shelters in two Canadian cities. The data was derived from a primary study that investigated pathways to homelessness among refugees. A qualitative thematic methodology was used in analyzing the data to understand how mental health experiences among refugees influence their pathways to homelessness. NVivo software was used in managing the development of themes from the data.

RESULTS: Three themes are proposed that examine the role of mental health in pathways to homelessness. The first, Compounding Marginalization, reflects the several points of marginalization faced by refugees both in their home country and upon arrival in Canada. The second theme, Mental Health is Precarious, highlights how homelessness has a negative impact on the mental health of refugees. The third theme, Homelessness is Caused by a Lack of Housing, reflects how participants in this study attributed their homelessness not to poor mental health but to a lack of affordable housing.

CONCLUSION: Results from the study indicate that while refugee claimants experience mental health stressors, these do not necessarily influence their pathways to homelessness. Rather, homelessness among this population stems from a lack of financial resources emanating from their inability to secure jobs, unrecognized status, language barriers, low social assistance rates, and the lack of affordable housing. However, homelessness among refugees was suggested to predispose them to a deterioration in mental health and experiences of mental stressors.

Summary for Lay Audience

Canada maintains an ongoing commitment to accepting refugees from across the globe. However, there have been recent concerns about the number of refugees, especially refugee claimants, experiencing homelessness. Most refugee claimants arrive in Canada with little or no support towards their housing. This can include lack of documents, a lack of money, or a lack of English language skills. It is possible that arriving homeless into Canada is bad for one’s mental health. Additionally, research shows that individuals with mental health challenges are prone to homelessness. Therefore, it is surprising that very few studies have explored the relationship between the mental health of refugees and experiences of homelessness in Canada. To help fill this gap, this study looked at the mental health experiences of refugee claimants and their stories of becoming homeless. In this study, in-depth interviews with 15 homeless refugee claimants were conducted. The participants were from two mid-size cities in Ontario and they were asked if their mental health challenges played a role in their homelessness and what could be done to assist them in improving both their housing and their mental health. The findings of the study revealed that while the participants experienced some mental health challenges, they did not see these as the cause of their homelessness. Rather, the lack of money, lack of jobs, and lack of affordable housing made them homeless. However, they did mention that not having housing added mental stress.

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