Primary Sources: Addressing the Individual Needs of Runaway and Homeless Youth

Photograph of four young people.

Toward a Needs-Based Typology of Homeless Youth (abstract), Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 42, No. 6, June 2008.

What it’s about: Research suggests that homeless young people often need help with multiple issues before they can return home or become self-sufficient. To see what approaches might be most effective for youth based on the particular issues they face, the author studied data from a series of interviews with 422 street and shelter youth, conducted by the Oregon Research Institute between 1994 and 1997. The author specifically looked at seven risk factors, including physical and emotional abuse, drinking or drug problems, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and involvement in crime.

Why read it: This article laid the foundation for a recent crop of research that proposes new ways to look at the varying needs of homeless youth.

Biggest takeaway for youth workers: The author concluded that homeless young people could be divided into four groups needing four specific avenues of services:

Group 1: Youth with fewer problems and safety issues. They need minimal treatment, including short-term housing and counseling.

Group 2: Youth who’ve experienced emotional and physical abuse and have drinking or drug problems. They need therapeutic housing with an emphasis on mental health and alcohol and drug abuse services.

Group 3: Youth who’ve experienced abuse and also have gotten in trouble with the law. They need therapeutic housing with an emphasis on mental health and behavior management.

Group 4: Youth who’ve experienced all or most of the risk factors. They need comprehensive treatment, including safe housing, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, educational and legal services, and behavior management.

The author suggests that classifying youth according to their needs may help organizations better serve each group of youth.

Additional references: For summaries of other research that attempts to classify homeless youth, see these earlier Primary Sources articles:

"In Search of More Nuanced Ways to Classify -- and Serve -- Homeless Youth"

"Patterns of Youth Homelessness Over Time"

(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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