A Little Room of Hope: Feminist Participatory Action Research with "Homeless" Women

In April 2005, a group of women gathered for a human rights workshop at a Toronto drop-in centre for women experiencing homelessness, poverty, and isolation. One year later, the group sent a representative to address the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This dissertation describes and analyzes the feminist participatory action research-intervention project that began with the workshop and led to the United Nations. Over the course of 15 months, more than 50 participants attended weekly meetings at the drop-in. They learned about social and economic rights, testified about their experiences of human rights violations, and planned and undertook actions to respond to and resist homelessness.

This thesis draws upon observations of meetings, documents produced by the group, and interviews with thirteen of the participants, in order to examine the project from a number of angles.

First, the project suggests a new understanding of women’s homelessness: testimonies and interviews reveal that homelessness is not only a material state, but more importantly a social process of disenfranchisement enacted through relations of harm, threat, control, surveillance, precarity and dehumanization. Understanding homelessness as a social process enables an analysis of its operations within and for a dominant social and economic order structured by colonization and neoliberal globalization.

Secondly, the thesis takes up participants’ assessments of the project’s political effectiveness and its impacts on their well-being and empowerment, and reads these against the researcher’s experiences with the project, in order to explore how feminist participatory methodologies can contribute to resistance.

Finally, the thesis concludes with recommendations for theory, research, service provision, and human rights advocacy on women’s homelessness.

Publication Date: 
Toronto, ON, Canada