Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald C. Reitzes

Second Advisor

Charles Jaret

Third Advisor

Ralph LaRossa


This study investigates social psychological strategies homeless persons use to develop and maintain the self while homeless. To understand this topic, I apply the identity theory of Stryker, self-esteem ofRosenberg, self-efficacy of Gecas and Schwalbe, and homeless identity meanings and behaviors of Burke. Additionally, I examine what is needed to no longer be homeless. In all, 326 surveys were collected at six different homeless service agencies such as shelters and meal sites. The data analysis includes descriptive statistics and multivariate regression. The results only partially support identity theory in that interactive commitment (increased number of homeless friends) predicts salience (frequently invoking the homeless identity across different situations) which predicts increased length of time in role. However, affective commitment and centrality of the homeless identity have no effect. This study does confirm Snow andAnderson’s findings that homeless persons on the streets for a shorter period of time will distance themselves from the homeless identity, while those on the streets longer will embrace the homeless identity. As opposed to previous research, I find that the majority of homeless respondents do not have low self-esteem or self-efficacy. Instead it is certain factors such as being homeless longer and more often, accepting the homeless identity, viewing the homeless identity as most important, little to no family support and having a high school diploma (or less) that result in homeless persons having low self-esteem or self-efficacy. With homeless identity meanings, people thinking negatively about themselves is the result of having more homeless friends, being homeless longer and more often, possessing low self-esteem and low self-efficacy. Placing great importance on homeless identity behaviors such as helping other homeless people and staying sober influence these outcomes: thinking positively about the self, stronger ties with other homeless people, more homeless friends and invoking the homeless identity more often in different situations. For homeless people to obtain housing, two factors, income and social support systems, are most important. Of all the control variables, sleeping on the streets and multiple disabilities demonstrate the greatest impact for almost all of the independent variables. The implications of these findings are discussed.