Safe Haven

Ethnography review: Julie Brown

Word count: 1422

Safe Haven: The Story of a Shelter for Homeless Women

by Rae Bridgman

Summary of Ethnography

This ethnography walks the reader through the life of homeless women living in Toronto. As written in first person language, the author tells her story by sharing what she wrote down while studying this homeless shelter called Savard’s. She is able to share what she sees through her experience while studying there, meeting people, interviewing them and watching how people behave and interact to show the culture of a homeless women living in a city such as Toronto. The ethnography discusses the lives of these women that Rae Bridgeman had the opportunity of meeting, and how living at Savard’s affected these women in the good and bad ways that it did. The women differed in terms of personality and what they had experienced, and Savard’s aimed to take this into account.

The city of Toronto incorporates a large population of homeless women, many of which are mentally ill, de-institutionalized, immigrants, uneducated or isolated socially. As the ethnography progresses, the differences in women are shown and as needs are needed to be addressed, and Savard’s tries to alter its system in order to accommodate for the needs of the women. Many women found Savard’s to be good for them, but many found living on the streets to be better for them as they are able to make choices in their lives they cannot make while living at Savard’s.


The more important characteristics in this ethnography include the fact that there is common denominator people being used. As Rae Bridgman is trying to represent this culture of homeless women in Toronto as a whole, finer details about individuals are left out, unless there are important aspects that must be addressed coming from one individual to represent them. For example, Bridgman describes what the women typically wear, their posture and how they typically interact and respond to her.

Another important characteristic of this ethnography is the style of writing chosen by Bridgman. She writes in a journalistic style, or a diary. This enables her to tell her findings through her experience to her readers from her inside point of view. She also uses herself as a narrator throughout this ethnography. Bridgman writes as though she is telling a story, and narrates her experience to the readers, using “I” statements.

Bridgman demonstrates an excellent marking of fieldwork experience through her style of writing. Her diary forms of writing show how she was there and experienced the situation. She  describes what she saw, and how the women interacted and reacted throughout the situation as well as what she saw, including the scenery. For example, Bridgman paints a picture for the audience through describing the floor plan at Savard’s, but focuses on the social world in the shelter. This gave Bridgman an authoritative voice while describing her fieldwork experience.

Benefitting Audiences

In my opinion, this ethnography has the characteristics of a good student ethnography that will help the student readership in their awareness of the topics discussed and outlined in this ethnography. I say this because it incorporates many of the characteristics that a good student ethnography requires in order for a student to be of interest in and be able to grasp. This ethnography allows students able to put the population of homelessness into the perspective of their own lives and learn from the context of the story, not only focusing on the fine details and characteristics of the writing, as an area specialist readership would do. The ethnography is written in a way that is not too difficult for the student readership to read, as it is written in more of a journal form, and there are not too many jargon words that may confuse the student reader. The fieldwork experience is shown through her journal writing style of work, and important details are discussed although there is an importance to remain confidential during this research, the important parts of the homeless women culture are still expressed. This ethnography shows fieldwork experience, a narrative point of view, as well as common denominator people, all important characteristics in a good ethnography.

Good audiences for this ethnography would be people who live in Toronto, students, and especially students who are looking into going into work in addictions or social work, which would involve work with homeless people. Feminist audiences may also benefit from this reading as you can see just the female side of the homeless population and how they live their lives as homeless women, as it may be a focus some may want to read about.

Other audiences such as the general public may also benefit from this ethnography because the homeless population is seen quite frequently in cities and even smaller towns, and people may want to become more educated and aware of the lives that homeless people live as they are exposed to them. People who are already working in fields that help the homeless would also benefit from this ethnography where they could use the information provided to relate to this population. After reading this ethnography, the general readership may become more involved and aware of the difficulties surrounding homelessness, and this could add to the involvement of communities around the homeless population.

Knowledge in a Broader Context

The ethnography adds to my knowledge of the homeless population and the diversity it consists of. The statistics of the numbers of mentally ill women (58%), immigrants (37%), racial minorities (34%) and uneducated women who have never started high school (16%) have added to my knowledge of what the population consists of. This changes my view on the homeless as it gives me an incentive on how people end up living on the streets.

This ethnography addresses issues and concerns in the real world that people experience everyday. The large amount of mental illness throughout the women on the streets is addressed in the ethnography, which can contribute to the conversation of mental health we have today. Many of the women have been institutionalized at some point in their lives, and after being released they have become homeless. While the homeless population is large in cities such as Toronto, it continues to spread into smaller towns as well. Help for the homeless population is greatly needed and the issue of the hardships dealt by homeless women can be addressed through this ethnography.  This ethnography gives more knowledge of the daily lives and by people reading this, more involvement as well as public awareness could come about. Through the publication of his ethnography, hopefully more funding as well as more shelters will be created in the helps of generating a safe place for homeless women to live, and get back on their feet in their lives.

Critique of the Ethnography

I am giving this ethnography a great rating as it encompasses important parts that make an ethnography a good reading. Her authoritative voice was shown through her fieldwork, and her use of journal entries gave a distinct way of writing that was intriguing to follow. The book is not overly long, but the material covered addresses real life concerns. Bridgman’s ability to cover the aspects of politics, players and the changes in visions should be accounted for credibility (Ferguson-Wood & Walker 2006, 210). Bridgman does a great job at giving the reader an incentive on how Savard’s operates, and how the lives of the women in the shelter are affected. Bridgman gives a great admiration for those living in the shelter, and gives the readers a look at homelessness in a non-judgmental way (Ferguson-Wood & Walker 2006, 210). By doing this, Bridgman allows readers to think about homelessness through the perspective that she experienced.

Brown (2004, 268) discusses that only 10 pages are used for the review of lessons learned, and that the discussion in her ethnography is more descriptive than analytical. Although this is true, due to much of the issues on confidentiality, it may have been difficult for Bridgman to incorporate the analysis of what she saw and heard. Brown (2004, 268) also discusses how there were no recommendations for any “best practices” for other shelters to take into account when operating, and that Bridgman did not provide and future direction for research to take. That is true in the sense that she did not explicitly give any specific recommendations for other shelters and future research, but the experiences she demonstrated and her discussion on the changes Savard’s made to the building, including the rooms changes and alterations could be used as a guide for shelters.



Karin Elliot Brown, “Safe Haven: The Story of a Homeless Shelter for Women,” Cities (2004): 267-271, accessed March 28th, 2017, doi:10.1016/j.cities.2004.02.001

Sharon Ferguson-Hood and Marie Tovell Walker, “Safe Haven: The Story of a Homeless Shelter for Women,” Canadian Woman Studies (2006): 210, accessed March 28th, 2017


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