Primary Sources: How 'Social Networks' Affect Homeless Youths' Inclination to Get Help Finding Jobs

Two young people standing in front of a brick wall

Social Networks as the Context for Understanding Employment Services Utilization Among Homeless Youth.” Anamika Barman-Adhikari and Eric Rice. Journal of Evaluation and Program Planning, Vol . 45. (August 2014)

What it’s about: Researchers from California State University and the University of Southern California wanted to know how much homeless youths’ friends and acquaintances influence their use of employment services, such as training, tutoring and placement programs.

Researchers Barman-Adhikari and Rice surveyed 138 homeless Los Angeles youth ages 15 to 21 using an online questionnaire and face-to-face interviews. In the interviews, youth described 10 people they had interacted with in the past 30 days. They discussed which of the 10 people could be counted on to lend them money, give them food, or provide a place to stay, and which they could count on for emotional support.

Why read it: Becoming gainfully employed helps homeless youth form their identities, connects them to conventional institutions such as employers and banks, provides income that could lead to self-sufficiency, and reduces their chances of engaging in risky behaviors such as panhandling and exchanging sex for money, shelter or food. Looking at social context, in addition to young people's personal motivation and attitudes, can paint a clearer picture of what circumstances encourage and discourage youth from using employment services.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Barman-Adhikari and Rice’s classification of participants as homeless youth includes “not only those living on the streets and in shelters but also those living in motels or with family and friends because of economic hardship.” Fifty-six percent of the youth were “literally homeless” (sleeping on the street, in a shelter, or in a hotel or motel) and the rest were temporarily housed with friends or family or “couch surfing.”  

Barman-Adhikari and Rice found that a little less than half of the homeless youth in the study (47.4 percent) had used employment services at the drop-in center within the past 30 days. The likelihood that youth would use these services varied according to several circumstances:

  • Youth who were in some form of temporary housing were 2.4 times more likely to use employment services than youth who were “literally homeless.”
  • Youth who reported receiving resources like food, money and shelter from home-based friends were 4 times more likely to use employment services than those who did not.
  • Youth who reported receiving food, money, or shelter or emotional support from case workers were 2.9 times more likely to use employment services.

Barman-Adhikari and Rice cite previous studies that suggest emotional support from street peers reduces depressive symptoms, while receiving support in the form of money, food or a place to stay actually increased depressive symptoms.

Indeed, when they looked at the influence of peers living on the street, Barman-Adhikari and Rice found that youth who reported receiving money, food or other instrumental resources from these peers were 86 percent less likely to use employment services. On the other hand, those who received emotional support from street peers were 6.4 times more likely to use employment services.

Based on these results, it’s clear that the social context in which homeless youth find themselves is relevant to understanding whether they make use of employment services. According to this study, youth workers are a vital resource for some homeless youth, and they often act as supportive adult mentors. Providing emotional and other resources can go a long way toward encouraging homeless young people to use employment services.

Additional references: Look for more articles on homeless youth and employment in NCFY’s research library.

To learn about applying attachment theory to build better relationships between shelter workers and homeless youth, read the California Homeless Youth Project’s “Relationships Beget Relationships: Why Understanding Attachment Theory is Crucial to Program Design for Homeless Youth.”

NCFY offers several resources about social networks and employment for homeless youth including the research articles “Understanding Social Networks Among Homeless Youth,” “Peer Outreach Programs Provide a Stepping Stone to Future Employment” and “What Stands in the Way of Homeless Youths' Employment?

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

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