Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Nursing (Nursing)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Julie Barroso

Second Committee Member

Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda

Third Committee Member

Brian McCabe

Fourth Committee Member

Erin Kobetz


The primary objective of this dissertation was to address factors that influenced homeless women’s health behaviors based on the theory of gender and power (TGP). A total of 18 participants described their experiences of being homeless, living in a shelter and its impact on their HIV risk behaviors. The interviews were framed by the constructs of the TGP, which included economic, physical, and social risk factors. The TGP describes the multiple social and structural factors that impact homeless women and their health risks. The TGP was chosen because of its adaptation by Wingood and DiClemente (2000), who exclusively tailored it to women, identifying poverty, homelessness and a history of abuse as health risk factors for women (Wingood & DiClemente, 2000). According to the theory, three major structures characterize the gendered relationships between men and women: (a) the sexual division of labor, which examines the economic inequities favoring males; (b) the sexual division of power, which examines inequities and abuses of authority and control in relationships and institutions favoring males; and (c) cathexis, which examines social norms and affective attachments. Women residing in an all-women’s shelter in Miami-Dade County were recruited for individual in-depth interviews. Participants were eligible if they were 18 years or older, currently living in a designated homeless shelter, spoke and understood English, and self-reported a negative HIV status. Content analysis and constant comparison techniques (Miles, Huberman, & Saldana, 2014) were used to analyze the data. The data were broken down into discrete incidents and then were coded into categories. Each category was compared to previously coded categories to establish relationships and elicit overall themes. The results of the study illustrated the themes of “making a positive change” and “breaking the chains.” “Making a positive change” was described as both a reason for coming to the shelter and a result of living in the shelter. The women of the shelter stated that it provided an opportunity for independence, safety and growth. Since living in the shelter, women stated their lives improved with regard to their basic needs, their emotional and mental states, and their sexual health. Women also indicated the hardest part of being homeless revolved around their roles as mothers. The main theme regarding motherhood was “breaking the chains,” women wanting to change their lifestyles for the sake of their children. All of the women discussed their struggles with motherhood and histories of violence in their lifetimes, including child abuse, partner abuse and sexual abuse, as factors that impeded their abilities to provide for their children. The women’s current struggles and histories of violence victimization hindered their abilities to raise their children in a positive environment. The findings of this dissertation suggest that homeless women are trying to make positive changes in their lives. For many of the women, they aspired for independence, safety and personal growth, which extended to their desire for a better life for their children. This study also showed the significant role sheltered living played in the growth of the women. The findings have implications for practice, research and policy concerning homeless women and victims of abuse. The high prevalence of violence among homeless women indicates an ongoing need for awareness and more importantly, prevention of violence and abuse toward women and children. Future work is needed in order to address and understand the complexity of violence victimization and its long-term impact on homeless women, specifically homeless mothers.


homeless women; motherhood; gender and power