Emotional refuge? Dynamics of place and belonging among formerly homeless individuals with mental illness

This study investigated the emotional and spatial dynamics of belonging among formerly homeless individuals with mental illness living in independent supportive housing in New York City. The notion of belonging connects with a renewed interest in understanding how to achieve integration of this population in their communities and broader society ([Ware et al., 2007] and [Wong and Solomon, 2002]). Eighteen in-depth interviews demonstrate that experiences of belonging were subject to multiple social and spatial constraints. These included stigmas about mental illness; neighborhood amenities, crime and drug activity; and connections to networks and places beyond the neighborhood of residence. Participants often described feelings of disconnection and alienation in their own neighborhoods, but also experienced deep connections to other communities, accompanied by emotions of comfort, care, and attachment. Drawing on these findings and interdisciplinary literature on belonging, emotion, space and mobility this paper develops the concepts of non-belonging, belonging from afar, and non-normative belonging. These concepts suggest that research into community integration should better attend to the bonds of attachment to other networks and places that individuals with mental illness may carry into new residential settings, and the autonomy they bring to navigating the process of integration.

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Emotion, Space and Society
United States