What Outcomes Are Important to Youth After They Exit a Transitional Living Program?

Two young adults shaking hands.

From Independence to Interdependence: Redefining Outcomes for Transitional Living Programs for Youth Experiencing Homelessness” (abstract). Casey Holtschneider. Families in Society, Vol. 93, No. 3 (2016).

What it’s about: Many agencies that fund transitional living programs (TLPs) measure program success by a young person’s housing situation, job status, education achievement, and overall health at the time they exit the program. While these outcomes are important, they may not be the most important outcomes from the perspectives of youth who were in these programs, Holtschneider argues. Holtschneider interviewed 32 individuals who had experienced homelessness and participated in the same Chicago TLP at some point between 2003 and 2013 to learn which outcomes they viewed as most significant.   

Why read it: A similar study examined how youth perceive the impact of TLPs; however, there is currently no research on what outcomes young people who have participated in a TLP value, Holtschneider claims. The findings from this study could identify other performance measures for TLPs and their funders to use in determining the effectiveness of the program.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Participants reported that one of the happiest times in their lives was when they were in the TLP. They identified the following four outcomes of participating in a TLP as the most important to them.

Safety and Survival. Nearly half of the participants thought they would not be alive if it weren’t for the TLP. They credited the program with providing them safe shelter and removing them from unsafe situations, such as violence at home or in the streets, and addiction to drugs. They also mentioned how the TLP provides more than just a bed. All participants agreed the supportive services provided by TLPs—recreation, education, employment, health, and life skills training—had the greatest impact on their lives. They felt that without these services they probably would not have stayed in the program and would have gone back to unsafe situations.

Permanent Connections. Many participants built relationships with their peers and staff members that have lasted years after they left the program. Thirty participants said they have had regular contact with at least one peer or staff person they met while in the program, and 13 said their closest friend was another former resident of the TLP. They credited the TLP with strengthening their network of social support. For instance, when participants faced future housing instability or financial troubles, they provided each other with  emotional support as well as support in the form of housing, child care, food, clothing, and financial assistance.

Giving Back. All participants said that at some point they had told other youth experiencing the same hardships they did about the TLP. They encouraged these youth to access the services offered by the TLP by sharing their own stories of homelessness and how the program made a positive impact on their lives. In some cases participants paid for a young person’s transportation to the program or accompanied them to it.  

Personal Development. Many participants discussed how the TLP played an important role in their personal growth and development. To them, the TLP provided support during a period of self-discovery and maturation. Specifically, participants identified three core skills the program helped them develop:

  1. Empathy to better understand the hardships of others.
  2. A change in values and priorities, so that for many youth, using drugs or alcohol, or being involved with gangs were no longer appealing.
  3. Self-actualization, which for many youth meant leaving behind their lives before the TLP  for new lives in which they could be whatever they believed they could be.  

The support TLPs provide is critical to keeping youth safe and can have positive impacts years after a young person has left the program, Holtschneider writes. Useful performance measures for TLPs could include the outcomes most important to the youth: cultivating healthy relationships, assisting other youth in similar situations, and developing a sense of self. Other recommendations include enhancing aftercare support, facilitating easier ongoing contact between program staff and TLP alumni, and helping young people reduce feelings of stigma and personal failure by educating them about potential links between their housing instability and oppressive policies and societal systems.

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

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