Primary Sources: In Search of More Nuanced Ways to Classify -- and Serve -- Homeless Youth

A group of diverse youth sit on a bleacher.

The Heterogeneity of Homeless Youth in America: Examining Typologies.” Research Matters, September 2011.

What it's about: Researchers studied homeless youth in Detroit to try to come up with new, more accurate ways of defining who homeless youth are and what services they need.

Why read it: Earlier ways of categorizing homeless youth – based on single factors such as where they live, how or why they became homeless or at what age, or whether they’ve suffered abuse or mental illness – may not be the most useful or accurate ways of describing this population. Researchers hope that more precise, research-based classifications will help youth workers better serve America’s diverse subgroups of homeless youth.

Biggest take away for youth workers: The researchers used multiple protective factors, such as having a cohesive family or a good sense of self-esteem, and risk factors, such as having experienced sexual abuse, risky sex or mental health problems, to divide youth into three categories:

  1. repeatedly homeless but connected to school and family;
  2. high-risk for repeated homelessness and other problems, such as mental illness, drug abuse and difficulty in school; and
  3. low-risk for repeated homelessness and other problems.

Youth in each category followed specific patterns of homelessness as they became older. Finding these types of patterns, the researchers say, will help youth-service providers develop more nuanced programs for different types of homeless youth.

Additional reference: The author of this study is the Homelessness Research Institute, the research arm of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and a good source of new research on homelessness in the United States. Visit the Runaway and Homeless Youth topic page to read or listen to other NCFY features on this topic.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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