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What Influences Drop-In Center Use Among Homeless Youth?

Young people sitting on and around a sofa in a drop-in center.

Facilitators and Barriers of Drop-In Center Use Among Homeless Youth” (abstract). Eric Pedersen, Joan Tucker, and Stephanie Kovalchik. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 59, No. 2 (2016).

What it’s about: Pedersen, Tucker, and Kovalchik reviewed and summarized research regarding the characteristics of homeless youth who use drop-in centers and what factors contribute to or hinder their use of these centers. After analyzing 20 peer-reviewed articles specific to homeless youth between the ages of 13 and 25, the authors developed a conceptual model of drop-in center use among homeless youth that can be used for further research and to design effective interventions and outreach efforts.

Why read it: Drop-in centers for homeless youth help meet their basic needs as well as provide access to services, such as substance use treatment, mental health care, independent living skills, and job training. The authors cite research showing that homeless youth are almost twice as likely to use drop-in center services compared to shelters. They suggest that by developing an understanding of why youth do or do not use center services, youth workers and organizations can design services and strategies to better meet young people’s needs.

Biggest takeaways from the research: The authors found that age, gender, and race/ethnicity contributed to whether youth access drop-in center services; for instance, youth using drop-in centers tended to be older and boys or young men, although girls and young women reported more satisfaction with the services. Sexual and gender minority youth were more engaged with services in drop-in centers and also at greater need for higher-level services such as substance use treatment. Being homeless for a longer time period, experiencing childhood sexual or physical abuse, and enduring victimization while homeless were all factors that contributed to youth using drop-in centers.

Pedersen and colleagues highlight many factors that facilitated use of drop-in centers among young people:

  • Peer referral and social connection. Homeless youth often learned about drop-in centers from their peers, and continued to use services after they received social and emotional support from peers at drop-in centers.
  • Pets. Pet friendly drop-in centers engaged youth longer and assisted them in accessing higher levels of care.
  • Staff. When youth perceived drop-in center staff to be warm, nonjudgmental, and trustworthy, youth were more likely to use the center’s services.
  • Facility. Homeless youth sought drop-in centers that offered a sense of belonging, flexibility, and confidentiality and that were located in safe, comfortable, and clean locations close to other needed services, such as medical care.

The authors indicated that youth with substance use and/or mental health problems were less likely to access drop-in centers, either due to perceived lack of need for services or desire to avoid negative judgement from staff. Also, youth who reported personal pride in their independence and self-reliance on the street were less likely to access resources at a drop-in center.

Using these facilitators and barriers to homeless youth engagement in drop-in centers, the authors created a drop-in center specific model based on the Behavioral Model for Vulnerable Populations (a model used for broader health care service use among adolescents at risk for homelessness). Pedersen et al. suggest that the model, along with an understanding of these factors that contribute to or challenge drop-in center use among youth, may support more tailored programs and engagement strategies.

The authors recommend further research specific to the model with homeless youth and drop-in center staff, and encourage this understanding among service providers as a means to increase young people’s use of needed services.

Additional references: Look for more articles about drop-in centers and engaging homeless youth in our digital library.

Learn five ways to support traveling street youth.

Read about a youth drop-in center using trauma-informed care.

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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