Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Exploring the ‘Spoiled’ and ‘Celebrated’ Identities of Young and Homeless Drug Users

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Abstract:  Young people experiencing homelessness and who use drugs are vulnerable to being attributed with ‘spoiled identities’ due to stigmatising attitudes by wider society. This article is underpinned by a symbolic interactionist account of self-identity and stigma. It draws upon ethnographic research in a UK-based supported accommodation hostel for young people and explores how the residents in the hostel related to the labels of ‘homeless,’ ‘drug user’ and ‘youth’ and how these were expressed through their self-identities. Over a period of seven months, in-depth participant-observation, semi-structured interviews and a focus group were conducted involving 22 hostel residents, aged 16 to 21 years old. The data highlight how the residents engaged in processes of ‘distancing’ or ‘othering’ by making disparaging remarks about other people in similar situations based on stereotyping. These processes reinforced spoiled identities while enabling the residents to disassociate from them. However, residents also appeared to embrace and celebrate certain features of each label, indicating an acceptance of these more positive features as forming a part of their self-identities. The article concludes by arguing for a nuanced approach to understanding stigma and identity among homeless people, one that accounts for more than just a person’s housing situation.

Keywords:  drug use; Goffman; homelessness; spoiled identity; stigma; youth



© Jennifer Hoolachan. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.