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How Likely are Homeless Youth to Find and Maintain Stable Housing Over Time?

A teenage boy on the streets with a rucksack.

Understanding the Attainment of Stable Housing: A Seven-Year Longitudinal Analysis of Homeless Adolescents” (abstract). Jordan M. Braciszewski, Paul A. Toro, and Robert L. Stout. Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 44, No. 3 (2016).

What it’s about: Researchers Braciszewski, Toro, and Stout wondered how long it takes young people to return to stable housing after an episode of homelessness. To find out, they examined the course and risk factors for homelessness in a sample of 243 homeless adolescents over a 7-year period. The researchers recruited study participants, who ranged in age from 12 to 17 at the start of the study period, from agencies providing services to homeless adolescents, including shelters, substance abuse treatment programs, psychiatric facilities, and street settings in a large metropolitan area in the Midwest. Of the youth in the study, 48 percent identified as white, 46 percent African American, 3.6 percent Latino, and 2.4 percent another ethnicity. Sixty-seven percent of the participants were female.

[Get tips for using a “housing first” approach.]

Why read it: Braciszewski et al. note that while research on homeless young people has increased dramatically over the past two decades, very little is known about how quickly youth return to housing stability. Most studies focus on a specific point in time, they add, stating that more information is needed about the process by which youth return to stable housing. This study is an attempt to fill that information gap. The authors note that this study experienced a high retention rate and very little missing data, meaning that high confidence can be placed in its conclusions.

[Learn how schools can house and serve homeless youth.]

Biggest takeaways from the research: The research team measured stable housing in increments of 30 days, 90 days, and 1 year (365 days).

For the group that achieved 30 days of stable housing:

  • Fifty-seven percent accomplished this within the first two weeks of the initial interview.
  • Ten percent did so within one month.
  • Seventy-seven percent achieved stable housing within 90 days or less.

For those who achieved 90 days of stable housing:

  • Fifty-three percent accomplished this within the first two weeks of the initial interview.
  • Sixty-one percent did so within one month.
  • Seventy percent achieved stable housing within 90 days or less. 

Among youth who maintained stable housing for one year:

  • Forty-two percent accomplished this within the first two weeks.
  • Forty-seven percent did so within one month.
  • Fifty-five percent achieved stable housing within 3 months.

Most young people who maintained stable housing for at least a year did so after less than one year in transition. Only twenty percent of the youth who achieved stable housing for at least a year took a year or more to do so. Many of them obtained stable housing did so by returning to their parents’ homes.

[Explore how a free bus ride home can affect family dynamics.]

Based on these results, Braciszewski, Toro and Stout suggest that youth experiencing homelessness are often able to achieve stable housing quickly and with long-term security, generally in their parents’ homes. They note that family interactions were unpleasant enough to spur an episode of homelessness, but that families were resilient enough that young people could return stably.

The research team suggests that families experiencing youth homelessness would benefit from tailored family-based interventions that consider matters such as violence in the home. They also suggest that youth-serving agencies invest in unification strategies, especially given the effect of previous homelessness on future delays in rehousing.

The authors recommend that future research continue to examine the role of access to housing in housing stability outcomes for ethnic minority youth and individuals from poor neighborhoods.

Additional references: Learn more about Learn more about youth homelessness, family reunification and stable housing in our digital library.

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