Safe Haven Ethnography Review

Anthro 233

Michael Markovinovic


In the ethnography “Safe Haven: The Story Of A Shelter For Homeless Women, the author Rae Bridgman, analyzes and explores a women’s homeless shelter in Canadas biggest city, Toronto. Throughout the ethnography, the shelter Bridgman is referring to is Toronto’s Savard shelter. Within the shelter is a variety of homeless women who are battling psychological problems and through these women’s perspectives, Bridgman provides in detail what it’s like to work and live within these circumstances. From the start of the ethnography to the finish, Bridgman offers a participant observer, or a first person view of what these women are faced with and the challenges that may arise on their daily activities. Some of these activities Bridgman highlighted throughout the ethnography consist of, the relationships the women make with each other, and also the relationships they make with the staff members. Later on in the ethnography, Bridgman shifts the focus to the observations on the changes that had occurred since the women first got there.

In my personal opinion, this novel by Rae Bridgman has the necessary characteristics to make it a good ethnography. I stand by this point and can back it up with details because to be considered a good ethnography it must consist of the following characteristics. The investigation and focus is on everyday behaviours of the culture and the interactions between members and outsiders. This characteristic is present in Bridgmans piece when the women in the shelter are interacting with themselves and also the staff members. Other characteristics that contribute to making a good ethnography that are relevant in Safe Haven is the use of language, and rituals carried out by members of that culture. The purpose of these characteristics is to identify cultural beliefs and norms. Both of these characteristics exist within this ethnography when the women are describing their mental illness and other personal issues with the individuals who are there trying to help.

I think this ethnography would benefit a wide range of individuals because there are many aspects to the book where people can relate to. It can be a good audience for those women who are fighting against homelessness and how they could possibly deal with it. It can also relate to the women who are unfortunately dealing with abusive relationships or even any type of abuse. Most importantly in my opinion is that this book can be a great audience for those who deal with any type of mental illness. Mental illness is an serious issue that is often overlooked and individuals are viewed as “weak” but in Bridgmans writing, she gives first person examples and real life examples of how an individual with an mental illness is able to talk to someone about what’s going and are able to be provided with the first step to recovery and pursuing a happy life. This ethnography has definitely changed my way of thinking in a number of ways, first of is becoming aware of the high levels of homeless women who are abused both emotionally and psychically, and the challenges they must face in getting help when they are left with nothing. The ethnography also adds some personal knowledge to myself because it gets me thinking of other ways and initiatives that could be done to help women street survivors. The broader concern that might be present when regarding this ethnography could be the argument of how much mental health is correlated with homelessness. To go more into detail, an individual could argue that is the women homeless because of her mental illness? Or is her mental illness because of being homeless.

Near the end of chapter 3 Bridgman is speaking about “homelessness and mental illness” and says that “the rates of mental illness among the homeless population have, however, been of great interest to researchers and to the general public”, this quote can back up what I said previously about the correlation between homelessness and mental illness. Later in the chapter it states that “approximately 66 per cent of homeless population have had a diagnosis of mental illness at some point in their life”, this is just evidence that mental health has a huge factor on the way we live our lives and as a society we must figure out a way to help these individuals. In L Wolfers review (2004) about Safe Haven, she is talking in third person and explains that the book is basically a “how-to” for organizing a homeless shelter. I would have to disagree with this comment because I feel every shelter is different due to the different scenarios and individuals they are faced with. Based on Wolfers review, it seems like she is assuming every women homeless shelter is the same, when in fact they are not. Another review about Safe Haven I would like to touch up on is Karin Elliot Browns (2004) review. Karins review is also written in third person but focuses her review on more Bridgman and his research, and also the field work done in order to accomplish this ethnography. Both of these reviews talk about the ways of helping women in the streets so it is clear that Bridgman got a point across when he wrote this book, and that was bringing more awareness to the struggles that women may face with mental health and being in a shelter.

With my own personal review of the Safe Haven ethnography and by reading other reviews about it, it can be concluded that Bridgman conducted a book that can attract a large audience due to the fact that people can relate and compare. Bridgman made this possible by the research methods he did and the field studies that were done in order to achieve that first person view of what it is like to live and be like one of the women suffering mental health problems within a women’s shelter. Most importantly this ethnography brings awareness and attention to multiple things such as, mental health, welfare and housing.

Word Count: 1003


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