An interpretive study of the health experiences of runaway and homeless girls
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The purpose of my research was to explore the health experiences of runaway and homeless girls living on the streets in a metropolitan city in the Southwest, describe the meanings of their health experiences, and identify the factors that were beneficial or detrimental to their health while living on the street. The study centered on the participants’ health experiences within the contexts of gender and culture as understood through their narrative epiphany experiences. Purposeful sampling was used to obtain the sample of 10 English speaking participants, female adolescents between 14 and 20 years of age who self-identified as runaway and who were living on the street at the time of the interview. Denzin’s (1989) interpretive interactionism method framed the research process. Data collection included focus group discussions and individual interviews with participants that were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Additional sources of data were written fieldnotes and participant observations in the field. During the construction step of the interpretive process sub-themes were classified and ordered under three categories, The Adventure: Street Health, The Risk: Taking Chances, and The Trial: Have Agency. As the commonalities among these sub-themes emerged, these were linked to form the cumulative epiphany, “Health on the street as process of adventure, risk and trial.” Four minor themes were described within this process, Health is unimportant: Until you’re feeling ill; The alcohol and other drug (AOD) filter: It’s just the dope; Health as gendered process: The meaning of Blue; and Crossing cultural borders: How we negotiate street life. The majority of runaway girls demonstrated agency in regard to caring for their health and the health of others on the street; they were resourceful. Girls who inject drugs or drink alcohol discount feelings of illness and attribute their bodily symptoms to the drug itself. Youth who are under the influence of AOD do not seek health care because they believe they will be treated differently than if they had a “naturally” caused illness. Negotiating cultural borders is a metaphor for the developmental transition of exiting the street.
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