In her presentation at the Women’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Speakers Series on April 24th sponsored by the Echo Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research, Associate Professor of Nursing Isolde Daiski spoke about “Women Living with Homelessness: They are (almost) invisible”.
Daiski was a hospital nurse for many years, before she earned her Masters and Doctorate degrees and began teaching in the School of Nursing at Ryerson University in 1990. Since 2001 she has been a full-time faculty member at the School of Nursing at York University. Isolde also volunteers as a nurse with an outreach program operated by the Sherbourne Health Centre which delivers mobile on-the-spot nursing care to homeless and underhoused individuals in Sherbourne’s southeast Toronto area as well as other parts of the city, called the ‘Health Bus’.
Daiski delved into narratives from three homeless women of different ages in order to bring to light the difficulties of being a homeless woman in Canada. Her methodology involved running their experiences through Foucault and Kearney’s theories on power relations, “othering”, and neo-liberalism. Daiski also used narrative hermeneutics in her research and lecture – essentially, understanding another person through his/her narrative/story – and how we can better understand marginalized populations by listening to their stories.
The first story was about a 13-year-old girl who chose to “be free” on the streets after her father’s death and her mother’s ensuing alcoholism. Her story, full of sexual abuse, abuse by authorities, and a cold reception from the public, was indicative of the problems nurses and social workers see every day on the streets and in Canada’s shelters.
Daiski recounted the young woman’s story about sexual assault after being invited into someone’s home, when the young woman said, “You go through what you go through. It’s worse on the street.” Still, she says, “I prefer physical abuse, because verbal and emotional take longer to heal.”
All three women’s narratives overlapped in the conditions that resulted in their homelessness: suffering abuse at home; experiencing the jolt of intense poverty due to health issues or the loss of a job; and experiencing a severe lack of a social safety net. Daiski said that services that require documentation are almost impossible to acquire for the homeless because of the lack of an address; shelters quickly run out of beds; and support houses for women are sometimes located in remote areas where access to other services is a challenge. Many women end up on the street because of reasons outside of their control, yet society blames them anyway.