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Searching  for the meaning in life and the importance of social support to homeless people

PhDr. Dana ROSOVÁ, PhD., SR


Abstract: The aim of the research was to examine the meaning of life regarding homeless people. The study aimed to examine the relationship between the self-image components and the life sense factors. The research was undergone by 104 homeless people from the Institute of Christ The High Priest (CHP) in Žakovce who were presented a survey questionnaire on the meaning in their life (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, S. et al., 2006) and on perceived level of social support they were provided from  surroundings. Vasiľová, Bendžalová (2004), studied self-image using the „Methodology of the Self. “ A distinctively higher level of the future planning was detected among homeless males. Homeless people who declared greater satisfaction with social support from their surroundings also reported higher scores in temporary meaning in life and higher scores in long-term searching for overall life sense than the subjects reporting lower and medium levels of satisfaction with the social support from their surroundings. The strongest relation was discovered between the self-image component, commitment to help others, and the actual meaning in life, as well as between the self-image component, happiness, and the searching- for-life-sense factor. The results suggest the importance of considering gender traits in measuring personal satisfaction with one´s living conditions and need for social support, which is provided under social work with homeless people. Key Words: meaning of life, self esteem, social support,  homeless people,




Absolute poverty represents one of the main global issues of humanity and its basic characteristic being a day-to-day struggle for survival. It has taken the form of homelessness, which is one, the problems of the postmodern society in many countries around the world. Homelessness has also become a part of our society in Slovakia. We classify homelessness as a socially pathological phenomenon. Social pathology defines this phenomenon as a destructive or auto-destructive behaviour of people. It is comprised of pathological behaviour, pathological conditions, social, cultural conditions and processes evocating or causing pathological behaviour (Balogová et al., 2003). “Anybody can be a homeless person. Man, woman, child, whole families, young, old, sick, healthy, employed, unemployed, addicted or abstainer, ex-convict, abused woman or a boy from an orphanage” (Beňová, 2008, s. 10). Giddens (1999) points out a fact, that in last few years, the term homeless person was transferred to a category of people, who have nowhere to sleep, and because of that, they sleep on the streets or old, abandoned boarding houses, or they temporally live in a charity hospice.

In EU, people are considered to be homeless when not only they are seen on streets or in hospices, but also those, who are hidden, wandering from hospice to hospice or sleeping under bridges and other places. People in risk of losing a home, unemployed, or victims of home abuse, who cannot afford to pay the rent are considered to be potential homeless person (Beňová, 2008). Hradecká, Hradecký (1996) mention extreme exclusion when talking about the homeless persons. Homeless people are usually unemployed. Neglected looks, inappropriate clothing, bad health prove to be a problem when looking for a job, because they adversely affect the employer when picking his future employees. Homeless persons are a socially excluded group of people. Vágnerová (1998) says, that homeless people usually have unsatisfied needs and under the influence of bad experience they tend to resign, expecting nothing from life at all, which leads to attitude of resignation, apathy and fatalism.



Dictionary of social worker defines meaning of life as a regulative term that modifies and explains social norms by which a person should guide himself. A person´s value system along with his confrontation with social norms helps to define the secret of an individual´s existence, also known as the meaning of life (Strieženec, 1996). To understand the meaning of life means to understand ourselves. When we talk about the meaning of life, it does not have to mean only one thing; therefore, we can talk about so-called plurality of meanings. We assign different meanings to each of our spheres of life. We can talk about pathology of purpose of our existence, because such meanings can strengthen each other (when we reach one meaning we can proceed to reach another one) or contradict each other (Šulavíková, Sejčová, 2008). When we think about the purpose of our existence from the point of view of psychology, two types of questions arise. First one being the exploitation of understanding that purpose, and second one being the creation of purpose. Creation of understanding of the meaning of life can be defined as a process. In this process, people judge, revaluate and verify significance of events while discovering the meaning of life. According to Taylor, increased necessity to find the meaning of what is happening occurs mainly in situation that bothers the person very much. Creation of meaning is best explained as something that is most required, most important in a particular situation. According to some authors, the ability to discover a meaning is something a person is born with. Creating this meaning is very important for a person because it helps him to better identify and evaluate himself (Křivohlavý, 2006). It does not matter in what situation a person finds himself; his life is still potentially meaningful. According to P. Macek (2003), to be nobody but ourselves, to be aware of our value and to think about our future belongs to the top of the system of values and interests of a person. Some of our authors like Orosová, Zelina, Kováč, Komárik, Halama approach a person´s meaning of life, through analysis of meaning of life´s function, by naming components and dimensions of meaningfulness in which a meaning of life can thrive and develop. Particularly, it is an acknowledgment of presence of relevant and significant goals, values, beliefs, life aspirations, and plans in a person´s life. Life goals, that enrich life with a purpose, are an outcome of functioning of beliefs, and they are so tied with them that they become inseparable. Life plans and goals are real factors that contribute to regulation of human behaviour. Studies show (Orosová, 1991), that through analysis we can define how much of a cognitive reflection will preferred values have on the level of meaningfulness and life goals of a person. A system of listed beliefs is supposed to provide an individual with context, specific form of understanding outer world and awareness of meaningfulness of the world and his own life. It is not static and it also possesses the ability to eliminate negative events in feelings followed by existential facts. System of beliefs also functions as a provider of certain behavioural criteria. In its core, the meaning of life represents a compilation of goals, values and beliefs, which give person a feeling of value and purposefulness of his life.


According to Shavelson & col. (1976), self-image is a way of perceiving ourselves. This perception is formed by experience with the environment and significant others.

We can define three aspects of a self-image: cognitive aspect, which deals with its structure and content. Affective aspect defines the relationship of an individual with himself and his self-evaluation. The aspect of action defines how a person will act in accordance with his self-knowledge and self-evaluation (Blatný & col., 1993, Macek, 1997). Many researches proved that if person values himself, he could establish harmony in his life. A positive self-image lowers the risks of drug and alcohol addiction and risk of committing suicide (Stempelová, 1998). The affective part has the biggest practical use when it comes to researching self-image. Rogers defines self-evaluation as a person´s acceptance of himself and how positive his relationship is with himself (Hoyle & col., 1999).

The feeling of self-value is strongly influenced by the feedback of social environment, and therefore a need of positive self-evaluation has a supportive role in creating and maintaining social relationships.



The system of social support can be understood as a some sort of absorptive system that protects people from potentially adverse influence of stressful situations. Many foreign and local authors agree on this definition. People with strong system of social support at their disposal appear to be better equipped to deal with serious changes in life or everyday annoyances (Cohen, Wills, In Křivohlavý, 2001). In a wider sense, by social support we understand help that is provided by other people to a person in a stressful situation (Křivohlavý, 2001).

A person gains strength to mobilize his own psychological resources when he is emotionally and generally supported by others. To fight stress and stressful situations, a person needs to feel someone backing him up, supporting him, someone to talk to about his problems.

It has been proved, that receivers of social support tend to avoid being reliant on their social network and ask for help only when all of the others coping strategies have failed. According to Satir (1994), the way to creating and maintaining a connection to right, effective and responsible behaviour is to have a feeling of our own value.


A warden and the administrator of the Institute of Christ the High Priest is Ing. Marián Kuffa, Dr.h.c. It was his idea to create a centre and shelter for homeless people, from an old farm in Žakovce, Kežmarok County. In the case of community work with homeless people, employees of the Institute are trying to create such ground that would help the homeless people and problematic citizens to reintegrate and start off a standard life, a family where they would be useful and creating values for our society. Problematic people are taken care of 24/7, not only during working hours, but also after them. Employees who work on their reintegration also live with them. They organize various activities for them and even spend their evenings with them. Homeless persons are not inactive in this institution. Employees of the Institute follow this three rules when working the reintegration of homeless persons: 1/ Alcohol and other addictive substances are forbidden. 2/ Prevention and forbiddance of criminal activity. 3/ Work therapy. During reintegration, homeless persons go through three stages. First stage: They do not care about other people or themselves when they enter the facility. Second stage: They care about themselves. Third stage: They care not only for themselves, but look for opportunities how to help others. During work therapy, the homeless people help around the facility they live in. They try to be self-sufficient, some of them even work around the farm (the facility is self-sufficient when it comes to production of potatoes, milk, eggs, meat and, partially, vegetables) because expenses to provide food are just too high. A bakery has been built on the grounds of the Institute, therefore making it self-sufficient when it comes to production of bread. Many of them work on construction. We can say that the building for physically disabled was built by homeless persons. This gives them the feeling of capability and usefulness, and some of them found a new meaning of life. Many of them found themselves working as janitors, caretakers or cooks in this building. To change a person not only on the outside, but also from the inside, is the core of reintegration. /



The goal was to study the meaning of life of homeless persons; to study differences in this meaning and its two dimensions (actual meaning of life, searching for meaning of life) in relationship to satisfaction with the social support.



Study sample: Study sample was made from 175 homeless persons from the Institute of Christ the High Priest (IKV) in Žakovce. 38% of them were women, average age was 42.6, SD=10.21 (Minimum: 19 years, maximum: 66 years). 104 homeless persons submitted fully completed the questionnaire.



Taking part on this study was voluntary and anonymous. The data collection was carried out with the researcher guiding the whole event. The warden and administrator of IKV in Žakovce gave his consent for this data collection.




Meaning in Life

Meaning in life questionniare (MLQ, Steger, Frazier, Oishi, S. et al., 2006). The questionnaire was comprised of 10 parts, 2 dimensions of meaning of life: 1. Dimension of actual meaning of life (if they think that their life has a meaning), 2. Dimension of searching for a meaning of life (if they are looking for a meaning and trying to understand it). Subjects answer every question with numbers from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), this being based on Likert´s scale type. The Cronbach´s Alpha value of MLQ was 0.80.


Self Esteem

Self-image was monitored by SELF-methodology, created by J. Výrost (Vasiľová, Bendžalová, 2004). The participants were asked to compare themselves with other people from their social network using the Likert´s scale: 1- far less than others, 2- less than others, 3- more than others, 4- far more than others were. They were supposed to grade these components: self-image, happiness, success, physical endurance, mental endurance, self-confidence, sense of humour, ability to communicate and number of acquaintances, along with some extra factors like: ability to get up, shake off and move further, desire to work and desire to help others.


Social Support

Social support was monitored by question “How would you rate your satisfaction with how many reliable people you have, using percents? %”. Using the Visual Binning method, it was able to create three groups of homeless people based on their satisfaction with social support: low level of satisfaction (≤ 20%), moderate level of satisfaction (21 – 40%) and higher level of satisfaction (41 %+).


Statistical Analysis

Results were analysed through SPSS 20 using the Mann-Whitney U test, Kruskal-Wallis test, and Kendall´s serial correlating coefficient.





Meaning of Life of Homeless People

The study uncovered that searching for meaning of life is on higher level than actual meaning of life. ( Mdactual meaning of life = 22, 0, Mdsearhching for meaning of life = 24,0).


The Role of Gender in the Meaning of Life of Homeless People

The studies showed that there was no huge difference between man and women in the dimension of actual meaning of life of homeless persons (U test = 2,473, z = -0, 96, N=152, p= 0,336). On the contrary, there were huge differences in the dimension of planning for future (U test= 2,091, z = -2, 11, N = 150, p = 0,035, Mdmen = 25,0, Mdwomen = 23, 5). Higher level of planning for future was discovered among homeless men.


Meaning of Life and Satisfaction with Social Support

Significant statistical differences were discovered in dimension of actual meaning of life 2= 22,8, p< 0,001, Mdlow level of satisfaction with social support= 21,  Mdmoderate level of satisfaction with social support = 21, Mdhigher level of satisfaction with social support = 28, 5) and in dimension of planning of meaning of life2= 25,5, p< 0,001, Mdlow level of satisfaction with social support = 24,  Mdmoderate level of satisfaction with social support = 24, Mdhigh level of satisfaction with social support = 28, 0) among the three groups of homeless persons diversified by their level of satisfaction with social support.

Homeless persons with higher level of satisfaction with social support (41%+) showed higher level of actual meaning of life  and searching for meaning of life  than homeless persons with lower (≤ 20%) and moderate level (21 – 40%) of satisfaction with social support.


Meaning of Life and SELF

Statistically significantly positive results between self-image and actual meaning of life were discovered in observed components of happiness, success, ability to communicate, ability to get up, shake off and move further, desire to work and the desire to help others (Table 1).

Statistically significantly positive results between self-image and the factor of searching for meaning of life were discovered in observed components of happiness, self-confidence, sense of humour, ability to communicate, ability to get up, shake off and move further, desire to work and the desire to help others (Table 1). The strongest relationship was discovered between self-image component of happiness and the factor of searching for meaning of life (Table 1).



Table 1 Relationships between self-image components and factors of meaning of life (actual meaning of life, searching for meaning of life) of homeless persons



  Actual meaning of life Searching for      meaning  of life
Happiness ,192** ,222**
Success ,140* 0,039
Physical endurance 0,098 0,064
Mental endurance 0,115 0,105
Self-confidence 0,077 ,166*
Sense of humour 0,061 ,138*
Ability to communicate ,141* ,206**
Number of acquaintances 0,039 0,129
Ability to get up, shake off and move further ,159* ,167**
Desire to work ,194** ,202**
Desire to help others ,215** ,187**

* p<0,05, ** p<0,01



It is inarguable that homelessness has a significant impact on loss of life expectations (Nusselder et al., 2012). In the dimension of actual meaning of life, the study did not confirm differences based on gender, but higher level of planning of future was discovered among homeless men. The posted results correspond with research results of qualitative study of authors Liu et. Al. (2009) which shows aspirations, hopes of homeless men in handling and resolving the presented life situation.

The results show that homeless persons with higher level of satisfaction with social support listed higher levels of actual meaning of life and higher levels of searching for meaning of life in comparison to homeless persons with lower and moderate level of satisfaction with social support. Posted results correspond with conclusions of other studies which show that social support plays an important role in the process leading to homelessness, and that it is one of the important factors in relation to life expectations of homeless persons. Absence of social support can lead to suicidal thoughts and hopelessness connected with handling their life situation (van Wyk, van Wyk, 2011, Schutt, Meschede, Rierdan, 1994).

Homelessness has a negative influence on person´s self-image (Lynch, 2009). The strongest relationships were discovered between self-image component of desire to help others and the actual meaning of life and self-image component of happiness and the factor of searching for meaning of life. This confirms the importance of individual and group work, which enables the development of self-image and self-evaluation of homeless persons.

Motivation of homeless persons of IKV to participate on the research, which is strongly affected by the fact that they belong to the target group of many researches, belongs to basic limits of the study. The study´s goal was to point the homelessness phenomenon in Slovakia and also to point out ways of how to help such persons, particularly in the above-mentioned IKV.




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Internetové zdroje:


Van Wyk, A., & van Wyk, R. (2011). Homeles in the Fraser Valley.

PhDr. Dana Rosová, PhD.: odborníčka s dlhoročnou praxou v oblasti prevencie sociálno-patologických javov/ obchodovania s ľuďmi, rasizmu, extrémizmu, šikanovania, drogových závislostí, porúch správania/ a poradenstva, lektorujem sociálno-psychologické výcviky.


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