Primary Sources: What Young Adults Want in Housing Assistance

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Young people moving boxes into a home.

Perspectives on Housing Among Homeless Emerging Adults” (abstract). Tiffany N. Ryan and Sanna J. Thompson. Evaluation and Program Planning, Vol. 36 (2013).

What it’s about: Researchers Tiffany N. Ryan and Sanna J. Thompson of the University of Texas at Austin wanted to know how homeless young adults felt about housing services available to them. The researchers recruited 29 youth, ages 18 to 23, who had used housing services in the past. Youth came from two social service organizations in a southwestern United States city. The study did not include young people who were under the influence of alcohol or other substances to an extent that would hinder their ability to communicate with the interviewer.

Why read it: Each year about 550,000 young people between 16 and 24 years old are identified as homeless, Ryan and Thompson write. Homeless youth live without support from parents and social networks, connections that help most young people to access health care, education, employment and stable housing. While housing assistance is available, for example in the form of transitional living programs, few studies have explored what young people actually want from these services.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Young people in the study ranked the following as the most important factors in deciding to use housing services, in order: safety, cleanliness and behavior of other clients. They were concerned that clients they didn’t know would steal their belongings or physically harm them. The youth in the survey felt that the emphasis in housing programs should be more on providing emotional and other types of support and less on rules enforcement.

Youth wanted housing programs to be able to support their homeless peers, too. Many would prefer to stay on the street rather than abandon their peer support group of friends and romantic partners. They felt unsafe in shelters with adults or strangers, but not with their peers.

The young adults surveyed wanted staff to be truly caring and respectful and to implement what youth consider to be fair rules and regulations. “Being treated with respect and caring is necessary to build trust with formal service providers,” Ryan and Thompson write. Such trusting relationships, they say, make youth in need of intensive and extended services more likely to request them.

The youth interviewed had pride in their accomplishments surviving on the streets and wanted to be treated by adults as friends rather than as victims or children. In particular they disliked curfews, feeling that having survived on the streets meant they should be able to come and go as they felt appropriate. One young person objected to background checks, expressing dismay that what he considered to be a minor criminal record had barred him from receiving housing services in the past.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on trust and youth-adult relationships in our digital library

"Aftercare: Staying in Touch With Youth After They Have Left the System" explores ways that service providers can help young people whether they remain in a program or not. "Ask NCFY: What Is Rapid Re-Housing and How Can it Help Runaway and Homeless Youth?" explores one way to get young people off the streets and into safe housing. "Ending Youth Homelessness by 2020: What RHY Providers Can Do" explores more ways to help young people find homes.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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