Primary Sources: Why Do Some Homeless Youth Seek Services, While Others Don't?

Photograph of a young person bundled up in worn clothing, sitting under a bridge

Correlates of Service Utilization Among Homeless Youth” (abstract). Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 34, Issue 7 (July 2012).

What it's about: The authors surveyed 249 homeless youth, ages 14 to 21, to find out what makes some seek help from service providers, like shelters, street outreach workers and food programs, while others don’t.

Why read it: Homeless youth often need an array of services to get off the streets and reconnect to school, jobs or supportive adults. But we know very little about what leads homeless youth to seek out those services. Understanding why homeless youth do or do not use services may help providers meet their needs and keep them from taking risks or breaking the law to get things like food, clothing and money.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Among the homeless youth surveyed, 44 percent had never stayed in a shelter, 35 percent had never used street outreach services, and 33 percent had never gotten a meal from a soup kitchen or food pantry. Youth workers will probably not be surprised that in general, those who did access services were more likely to have been physically or sexually abused and to have been kicked out of their home. Youth who sought help also had spent more nights sleeping on the street than those who did not, and they were more likely to have lived in a group home. The researchers suggest that youth who have spent time on the street or in institutions may get services more because they know what is out there.

Because many homeless youth have left abusive families and do not trust adults, the authors recommend that youth workers be creative and patient in making services accessible to all youth who need them. They should also seek to make programs less bureaucratic and rule-ridden, for example by employing a low-barrier approach.

Additional references: The report "Runaway Youth’s Knowledge and Access of Services" (PDF, 317 KB), which is based on interviews with youth living in shelters and on the street, also takes a look at how and why runaway youth use services.

(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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