“Time goes flying away”: How housing insecurity affects time for health

As I read through interviews from Positive Living Positive Homes (PLPH) (a community-based research study that explores experiences of people living with HIV on HIV and housing over time), one thing that has struck me is the way that unstable housing can affect people’s experience of time. Many people have shared that when they do not have a secure place to live it keeps them stuck in the present in a way that makes it difficult to make plans. This can be particularly difficult for people living with HIV, because the ability to stick to certain plans and routines – like taking daily medications and making it to doctor’s appointments – can have a direct impact on their health. One participant who had spent much of his time living in shelters and on the street shared his frustration about how difficult it could be to keep appointments when his housing was unstable:

…[U]ntil I have a good foundation laid for a home it’s pretty hard to make appointments. It seems hard for me because that might be the one day, all of sudden, I get to do my laundry, or the place is so dirty that I just start cleaning up. Or the time goes flying away. Or, it’s just weird how hard it is for me to make appointments; or the weather is shitty or I’m not feeling that good that day. There’s just so many things that can, for me, bugger me up to not make it.

Having insecure housing can also affect how people experience certain times of the day and year. One participant shared how her sense of the time of day had changed since she transitioned into supportive housing: “Being without a home… you forget to-when breakfast, supper, and sleep [sic]. I got my sleep all in order now. I’m not up all night.” In the interviews from Prince George in particular, winter seemed to be a worry that loomed over many people who were not secure in their housing. For one participant who was trying to move into safer housing, he spoke about the coming winter as a deadline that would make it much more difficult to move his and his partner’s things, especially since they had no access to a vehicle. Another participant who lived in a hotel where the landlord did not provide adequate heating shared his worry about the coming winter and the effect that it would have on his comfort and health. In short, participants’ concept of time frequently shifted to prioritize immediate survival needs or to strategize around extreme weather conditions.

Insecure housing also affects the ability to plan for the long-term and look towards the future. Many participants told us that when they don’t have a secure place to live and are struggling to survive, they don’t have the time or headspace left to set long-term goals, or to give their future much thought at all. One participant who shared her story with us had recently transitioned from living in shelters to long-term supportive housing. She described her new outlook on life now that she had secure housing:

I feel like I’m – I haven’t had a drink in over two months. Close to three months. I feel like I’m finally going full circle I guess… Yea. I’m making plans to hook up back with the church and to write a book on my life’s story… And to work. To help other people like myself to get a grip on life. With my story.

Hearing these stories and reflecting on the importance of housing continues to drive our work here at PAN. It is clear from the stories that people have shared in PLPH that housing is more than basic shelter. It can affect every part of a person’s life – even the way they think about the future, the time of the day and the changing of the seasons. It is crucial that housing is seen as a priority in supporting people living with HIV, and that there continues to be a community response in place to fight for affordable, safe, and stable housing for all who need it.


Learn more about Positive Living Positive Homes (PLPH)


Written by Joanna Tulloch, MPH Practicum Student


Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! Janice_2
Janice Duddy, Director of Evaluation and Community-Based Research [email protected]