Date of Completion


Embargo Period



homelessness, syndemics, women's health, medical anthropology

Major Advisor

Pamela Erickson, PhD

Associate Advisor

Merrill Singer, PhD

Associate Advisor

Barbara Grace Sullivan, PhD

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Physical Health, Abuse, Mental Illness, Loss, Instability, and Substance Use; the lives of homeless women are shaped by multiple interwoven domains. They confront extreme loss and destructive relationships throughout their lives. This dissertation addresses this syndemic (PHAMILIS) through an ethnography of homeless women staying at a rural emergency shelter in Northeastern Connecticut. My aim was to understand, through narratives, the life trajectories of homeless women, the experiences leading to their current state, and their perceptions of homelessness. My research involved interviewing 30 homeless women staying at the emergency shelter and 13 housing service providers throughout Connecticut. The purpose of the interviews was to hear and share the women’s stories and to gain insight into their conceptualization of homelessness. The provider interviews further contextualized the perception of homeless women. My research illuminated predisposing, exacerbating, and intervening factors that the women shared. They led complex, unstable lives growing up in various levels of poverty with dysfunctional families often rife with abuse and frequent relocation. Multiple, complex issues such as physical health problems, mental illness, substance use disorders, and abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional) exacerbated their homeless situation. Other factors intervened to interrupt their lives, including early parenthood, lack of education, Department of Children and Families involvement, custody battles, incarceration, and disability. The PHAMILIS syndemic elucidates the interrelatedness of factors that create the homeless experience and will help to inform how we strive to address the complex issues that affect the health and well-being of homeless women and the issue of homelessness itself.