How Do Formerly Homeless Youth Perceive the Impact Over Time of Transitional Living Programs?

Diverse young people sharing a meal together.

A Part of Something: The Importance of Transitional Living Programs Within a Housing First Framework for Youth Experiencing Homelessness” (abstract). Casey Holtschneider. Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 65 (2016).

What it’s about: Transitional living programs (TLPs) provide safe congregate housing and supportive services to help older youth who are homeless transition to independent living. To understand what elements of a TLP are most useful to youth, Holtschneider gathered and studied the perspectives of 32 individuals ages 20-32 who had experienced homelessness and participated in the same Chicago TLP at some point between 2003 and 2013. Nineteen study participants were female and 13 were male, including a male-identifying transgender individual. The sample was predominantly African American (28 participants).

Why read it: The effectiveness of the TLP model has been studied with youth exiting a program; however, youth perceptions of their experiences in TLPs have not been evaluated over time. Meanwhile, The Housing First approach (i.e., moving people immediately into low-barrier housing and providing supportive services once there) has a more solid research base demonstrating its effectiveness. Recognizing that as a result of this uneven research, some agencies and funders may turn to permanent supportive housing in place of, rather than inclusive of, the TLP model, Holtschneider examined youth’s perspectives of the benefits of TLPs.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Four key themes emerged from participants’ perspectives on the perceived utility of TLPs in addressing youth homelessness.

Family. The participants spoke about the positive family experience that the TLP gave them, and that had not previously been present in their lives. They used familial terms to describe their relationships with their peers and TLP staff.

Individual Connections. Holtschneider highlighted that 100 percent of participants indicated that the relationships they developed through the TLP were the most beneficial part of the program. In addition, 94 percent of participants said that they have maintained TLP relationships since leaving the program. Many emphasized the importance of diverse friendships, shared experiences, and the sense that they could be open with peers and staff. Participants did say that learning to get along with others was challenging at times, yet they reflected that it gave them skills that were useful in relationships, other living environments, and workplaces. However, they also emphasized that high staff turnover rates challenged trust and relationship building with TLP staff.

Community. Holtschneider reported that participants derived a sense of community from the program as a whole. Forty-one percent of participants said that they would go back to the TLP if they could, because they missed the support and consistent access to staff and peers.

Preparedness. Study participants currently believed that they were not ready to live independently when they entered the TLP. Elements of the TLP that they said helped them prepare for independent living included:

  • Program structure (for example, wake-up times, chores, curfew).
  • A holistic approach to meeting emotional and mental health needs, and services to build their skills for living on their own.

“Participants consistently emphasized the emotional support offered by the TLP housing model as one of the most useful services they received,” Holtschneider writes.

Although this study does not look at the efficacy of TLPs as an intervention for youth homelessness, it does provide insight into important elements of the TLP model from the perspective of youth with TLP experience. These themes of family, individual connections, community, and preparedness frequently are not included in discussions around program models associated with the Housing First philosophy, Holschneider says. She emphasizes the importance of the TLP model for homeless youth, stating that “moving away from the emotional, practical and developmental supports they provide would be a mistake.”

Additional references: Look for more articles about transitional living programs and homeless youth in our digital library.

Read more about successful transitions to adulthood.

Listen to the value of creating permanent connections for homeless youth.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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