Findings from qualitative interviews provided a more nuanced understanding of changes that occurred in participants’ social networks. A total of 20 participants participated in these interviews, with 12 participating in both 6-month and 12-month interviews. All qualitative interview participants also participated in structured quantitative interviews.
3.2.1. Types and Sources of Participants’ Social Support
We categorized each type of social support participants mentioned as being either: (a) emotional and interactional support (i.e., a relationship an individual receives some form of empathy, compassion, or genuine caring from and/or someone the person spends time with); (b) instrumental support (i.e., tangible aid or services); or (c) negative support (i.e., burdensome and/or abusive relationships). Table 3
summarizes how many participants discussed each of these categories of support and the number of participants who mentioned specific sources of support. Instrumental support and emotional and interactional support were mentioned by about the same number of participants (12 and 10 respectively), while negative support was only mentioned by 8 individuals. Relationships with friends, neighbors, and professionals/providers were mentioned by all 20 participants, while only 15 mentioned family, 12 mentioned romantic relationships, and 2 mentioned relationships with acquaintances from church (they did not discuss these individuals as friends).
shows the proportion of times each relationship source was mentioned by the type of social support they were discussed as providing. Instrumental support was primarily discussed in the context of professional/provider relationships, with most of these discussions centering on HF staff. As one participant described:
She [HF staff member] makes sure appointments are scheduled. She makes sure that I make my appointments. I got bus passes if I need it…She’s hooked me up with different groups and things going on, different pantries when I didn’t have my food stamps…She’s a life saver!
(Male, age 50, 6-month interview)
As demonstrated by the above quote, participants often described how professionals/providers assisted them in various ways such as accessing services, dealing with legal issues, obtaining hygiene items, filling out paperwork, applying for benefits, and helping run small errands.
Friends, professionals/providers, and family were almost equally represented in discussions of emotional and interactional support, with friends primarily discussed as people to spend time with and professionals/providers primarily discussed as providing emotional support by listening to their problems or showing concern. Speaking about staff, one participant stated:
When my back’s out, I just stay in the apartment. They [HF staff] express their concern, and then, when they do see me they [say], “Man, I hope you’re alright. I see you’re feeling better, you’re up and about,” and stuff like that. There’s the concern, and it’s a truthful kind of thing. It’s not like they’re just doing it because it’s their job; they really care.
(Male, age 48, 12-month interview)
Family members were different from friends and providers, as they were discussed in terms of both spending time and providing emotional support:
Because they [family] come over, we laugh and kick it and, you know, they go on about their way. It’s good. It’s pretty good. Feels good. They’re real happy for me, real happy for me.
(Female, age 48, 12-month interview)
Friends and romantic partners were the most frequently discussed sources of negative support. Examples of negative support from friends included people who a participant did not want to be around because of excessive drug and/or alcohol use, and people who took advantage of the relationship in some way such as stealing, constantly asking for money, or using them for their apartments. Similar issues were discussed when speaking about negative support in romantic relationships; however, in one instance a participant discussed a relationship that was marked by jealously:
I really didn’t have no friends because I had an abusive girlfriend, and I wasn’t allowed [by her] to have friends. She thought I was having sex with everybody I came in contact with.”
(Female, Age 29, 6-month interview)
3.2.2. Changes in Participants’ Relationships
Interview participants discussed a variety of changes in relationships that occurred over the course of the year. Positive and negative changes in relationships with friends, romantic partners, family, and professionals/providers were all noted.
When discussing making new friends
, there was a sentiment that it was somewhat easier to do so since moving in the building:
New [friendships], yea. Before like I really kept people at a great distance for a long time…I probably got like two people that I feel really close to [since being housed].
(Female, age 51, 6-month interview)
Discussion of relationship changes related to friends often overlapped with those of other residents because many of the friendships participants developed and lost were with others living in the building. Highlighting this, one participant stated she felt it was easier for her to develop friendships since moving into the building because of the availability of her new neighbors:
Now [since moving] I have relationships with people…it’s hard to get to know somebody at a shelter. I mean, here [in the building], there are more people to pick from…More people I’d be likely to be friends with.
(Female, age 58, 12-month interview)
Another common theme was the development and subsequent backing away from friendships
with neighbors in the building who engaged in behaviors to be avoided or because they were viewed as different in some way that made them undesirable to be around. For instance, one participant discussed how she stopped engaging with some of her neighbors who she felt were a bad influence:
You know, I think there's people [other residents] that are kind of a burden and things...I've kind of gotten out of the circle of the people that are drinking constantly and everything. I still associate with them, but I’m not like hanging out with them, getting drunk with them and stuff. [She associates]…with more positive people, and, you know, people I could trust more. You know, for a while I was letting about anybody in my apartment: they were stealing from me and stuff, and I kind of cut off people that I don't trust anymore…
(Female, age 48, 6-month interview)
Despite the problems this participant has with others in the building, she stated they still interact, though she avoids some of the situations and behaviors (i.e., “drinking constantly and everything”) she would rather not be a part of. The discontinuation of problematic friendships was not just limited to friends living in the building, as demonstrated by one participant’s exchange with an interviewer detailing how he dissolved two friendships with people outside of the building:
- Those relationships, have they changed for the positive, or the negative?
- Two of them for the negative.
- Okay. Why is that?
- Because one of them came in here and stole something from me. The other one…He thinks I’m supposed to believe everything he says…
(Male, age 63, 12-month interview)
Regarding romantic relationships, while there were a few discussions of these developing after a participant was housed (some of which formed between residents), there were more examples of preexisting romantic relationships that ended
. In most of these cases, relationships had ended because the participant viewed their partner as unstable, abusive, or influencing them negatively in some way, as in the case of two participants who stated they ended relationships with physically abusive girlfriends:
…I would get away from my girlfriend…It's like when she did something, I would do it. Because if I didn't do it, I would get beat up…It's over. She's even banned from [the building]…I have support here, and I'm clean, so...If I was still hanging out with her, I probably wouldn't be in this interview today.
(Female, Age 29, 6-month interview)
Another participant discussed how he discontinued a troublesome relationship with his girlfriend who “didn’t take care of her medication” and “acted like she didn’t have a medical problem” (Male, age 50, 12-month interview). Finally, one participant who previously engaged in sex work “trading sex for drugs or sex for housing” (Female, age 48, 6-month interview), including developing a relationship with a “sugar daddy boyfriend,” was able to discontinue her reliance on those types of relationships as a means of survival after she moved into the building.
Discussions of relationships with family were largely positive
, providing examples of participants reconnecting with family members and/or increasing their frequency or duration of contact with them. In the following example, a participant discusses how he and his wife, who were homeless together on the street and now live in the same apartment, reconnected with family after being housed:
Yeah, we’re [the participant and his wife] in contact more with them [family] now. I’ve had my brother here visiting. He stayed the night once, and we’re able to do that now. So, yeah, it’s gotten better…There was really no relationship before here. When we were homeless, they [family] didn’t try to help. They just separated themselves from us. It was like, “out of sight, out of mind” kinda thing. And now that we’re here, it’s changed.
(Male, Age 48, 12-month interview)
One participant attributed their reconnection with family to new levels of trust
that were able to develop after they had been housed:
- …in terms of your life changing since last January, how have your relationships changed?
- They’re better.
- How would you say they are better?
- My family trust me now…[now that] my lifestyle has changed.
- Okay, could you describe that?
- What my lifestyle used to be? Well, I was a hustler, boosting [stealing], doing drugs, selling drugs, that type of stuff.
(Male, age 53, 12-month interview)
Discussions of professional/provider relationships were largely focused on HF program staff, and demonstrated participants felt their relationships with staff members had “gotten better”
Yeah, I get along really well with staff…[S]ome of them knew me before I came here, so they seen the change [in the participant’s behavior]. You know, being more social and more trusting…We work together well.
(Male, age 48, 6-month interview)
Elsewhere in their interview, this participant discussed how he felt relationships between staff and participants in general had improved over time because “They [staff] know more about us now and how we act”. A different participant attributed the strengthening of her relationship with staff to the work they were investing in helping her reconnect with her child:
My relationships [with staff] have grown. I don't really know how to explain it. They're really working with me, try[ing] to get my mental health stable and keep me clean and sober so I can get visitation with my son. Not actually get custody with my son back but get visitation.
(Female, Age 29, 6-month interview)