Keeping Kids Off the Streets

A social worker talks with a homeless teenage girl on a bridge. Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

You may pass them on the street or at busy intersections, walking with backpacks and little else. They crowd outside familiar hostels and are spread throughout the city of Houston. They are homeless youth, and many are being exploited.

A social works hands a homeless teenage boy a blanket. Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

“Usually when a youth is vulnerable in one way, they are vulnerable in many ways,” said UH researcher, Sarah Carter Narendorf.

She and her team in the Graduate College of Social Work are beginning to think about youth and young adult homelessness as separate from chronic homelessness. “Young people tend to think of themselves differently; we should in turn, think about youth homelessness differently, too.”

For young people, being homeless is usually a temporary and, hopefully, non-recurrent situation. Narendorf’s research shows that if we intervene early, we can help marginalized young adults who don’t have the traditional familial or social support networks.

Whether facing a pregnancy, aging out of foster care or leaving the juvenile detention system, Narendorf focuses her research on those facing homelessness who are between 16-25 years old.

Rapid rehousing options and job placement opportunities through private and governmental programs have differing levels of success. Programs like UH’s Diamond Family Scholars program, which gives a leg up to young adults aging out of the foster care system, allow education to figure into the equation and are infinitely helpful.

“The most important thing is to take a holistic view of homelessness,” advises Narendorf. Criminal backgrounds, childcare constraints and transportation issues all play a part in youth getting and holding down jobs – which in turn, lead to different levels of housing stability. “These youth face so many barriers in our system.”

An upcoming project will analyze how a young person’s social networks – talking with influential people in their social circles – affect their mental health and decision-making skills.

Category: Social Justice

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