Homelessness in Adolescents and Survival Strategies Research paper Example

Homelessness in Adolescents and Survival Strategies

Research paper Example

Research Question/Topic

My research project focuses on how homeless adolescents are affected by their while living on the streets. I am interested in seeing the effect situational factors related to homelessness have on their wellbeing, specifically their mental health. To explore this topic my research question asks: In what ways do the survival strategies of homeless adolescents affect their mental health? You could also ask this the other way: In what ways does the mental health of homeless adolescents affect their survival strategies? To start we might ask: What is the relationship between the mental health of homeless and their survival strategies?

Terms and Variables

Street youth, hustling, survival sex, pan-handling and throw-away are a few terms that appear often in research studies related to homeless adolescents. I need to define these terms in my research project.

Independent variables – survival strategies of homeless youth (trading sex for money, housing or other necessities, hustling, conning, panhandling, stealing money or food, alcohol and drug use to escape reality, stripping or massaging, selling drugs and stolen items)

Dependent variable – mental health

Theory/Conceptual Framework

Homeless adolescents are thrust into a hostile environment on the streets where they sleep in public spaces, have no access to basic necessities, and lack employment to meet their basic needs. As a result, they engage psychological and behavioral mechanisms that meet the demands of their new social environment. This group shares a common cultural perspective that if their actions are necessary for survival they do not violate mores of street life. The new language these young members of society learn is inconsistent with mainstream values. Their behavior, although necessary for survival on the streets, leads to social sanctions. Participating in survival sex, illicit drug use and other risky behavior also increases their exposure to disease and multiplies the stressors in their lives. As a result, depression, anxiety and more serious symptoms of mental health disorders may emerge or be exacerbated if they were present before the onset of homelessness.

Taking into consideration the subjective experiences of homeless adolescents, I plan to frame my using a symbolic interactionist perspective. This theoretical perspective was developed by George Herbert Mead, a pragmatist who described the process by which individuals give meaning to what they perceive. According to Mead, mental states are informed by our perception of symbols, such as language, gestures and internal dialogue, which organizes our responses in social interactions. Homelessness and the experiences associated with life on the streets shape how adolescents interpret and give meaning to situations and their response in social situations. This should work. You could also use the Social Bond Theory if you are going to look at resiliency, Conflict Theory if you look at social control, or any of a number of learning theories about how they survive on the streets.


Because of the ethical issues concerning interviewing or conducting survey research on homeless minors who are a vulnerable population, and since I have not been formally trained in conducting field research, I would not be able to perform qualitative research. To test my hypothesis, I could review the research studies I have listed in my annotated bibliography below. Using these sources I can determine if there is a significant relationship between my variables and chart data to conduct a quantitative data analysis. The data would be separated into one variable per category and I would analyze the matrix for bivariate distribution. The categories could include drug use, stripping, trading sex for money and other survival behaviors, which could be compared against the dependent variable, a diagnosis of a mental health disorder contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Chi-square can be used to calculate statistical significance. I would have to control for pre-existing mental disorders to establish nonspuriousness. OK – you can look for these in the literature. Well stated.

Literature Review Outline

1. What elements of homelessness do street-youth experience? You might consider starting with a brief description of the factors that lead to homelessness among youth

a. Homeless youth lack supervision, financial and social support or protection from parents or guardians. They have no economic resources to pay for basic necessities including food, clothing and other items.

b. They sleep and conduct their daily activities in public spaces where they may be physically and sexually assaulted. This heightens stress and fear.

c. They experience social stigma and rejection from members of mainstream society, which affects self-esteem and mental health.

d. Lack of regular medical and mental health care and medications is a common condition street youth experience. Sanitation is also challenging to their wellbeing as are poor living conditions, which may be crowded, noisy or dirty.

2. What aspects of homeless adolescent culture influence the actions of street youth?

a. Street culture contains language, values and normative guidelines that guide the behavior of homeless adolescents.

b. As homeless adolescents assimilate into their new culture they participate in survival behavior that is against mainstream values, but aligned with the mores of street culture. For example, theft is acceptable as long as it does not involve stealing from another street youth.

c. Relying on other members within the group and having trusting relationships with them is preferred against institutional social support sources. A collectivist orientation is promoted within the group who share resources with each other.

d. Alcohol and drug use are prevalent. Sharing needles and stealing cough syrup and other over the counter medication for anxiety or hunger is common practice.

3. What are some of the lasting effects of homelessness and assimilating to street life?

a. Although homeless adolescents meet their basic needs by engaging in certain survival behaviors, they may contract HIV from sex work or having many sexual partners. The homosexual and bisexual homeless adolescent population is especially vulnerable since they are sexually victimized at a higher rate and engage in riskier sexual behavior.

b. Intravenous drug use may also result in HIV infection and the transmission of other diseases. Since homeless youth do not have regular medical care and the latency period between HIV and AIDS can be up to 8 years, HIV-positive street youth who may not be aware they are infected may transmit the disease to other youths.

c. Drug use, especially when various substances are combined may result in mental illness. Drug and alcohol abuse may damage internal organs and lower inhibitions.

d. Suicidal ideation, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and self-esteem issues are reported by homeless adolescents. Good topics

Annotated Bibliography

Athey, J. L. (1991). HIV infection and homeless adolescents. Child Welfare, 70(5), 517-528.

This article discusses the prevalence of HIV infection in homeless adolescents. It considers the risk factors of HIV infection including sexual assault before running away and during homelessness, exchanging sex for housing and other needs, multiple sexual partners and intravenous drug use. The latency period between HIV infection and AIDS combined with a lack of medical intervention increase the potential for HIV to spread among the homeless youth community. This is a challenge service providers must overcome to reach this community in a timely manner and to provide medical, mental health and other services comprehensively.

Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., Pollio, D. E., & Sterzing, P. R. (2010). Comparison of social estrangement among youth who are accessing homeless services in St. Louis, Missouri and Austin, Texas. Journal of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 20(3), 361-378.

The authors of this article use four concepts to compare homeless adolescents seeking social service. They analyze psychological dysfunction, focusing on substance abuse problems as well as psychiatric disorders. The human capital concept is considered, which encompasses the survival behaviors of homeless adolescents who have to provide for themselves without the help or protection of parents. Identification with homeless culture is the process of assimilation with street culture and institutional disaffiliation is described as delinquency, isolation from pro-social relationships and abandoning schooling.

Corliss, H. L., Goodenow, C. S., Nichols, L., & Austin, S. (2011). High burden of homelessness among sexual-minority adolescents: Findings from a representative Massachusetts high school sample. American Journal Of Public Health, 101(9), 1683-1689.

This article discusses how homelessness in adolescents who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual places them at great risk of physical and sexual victimization. Many homeless gay, lesbian and bisexual youth become throwaways or run away from home when their families do not accept their sexual identification. The article examined how being rejected and homeless may contribute to mental health problems such as suicidal ideation and depression.

Dorsen, C. (2010). Vulnerability in homeless adolescents: Concept analysis. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 66(12), 2819-2827.

The focus of this article is to formally understand the concept of vulnerability in homeless adolescents. Many homeless youth have a history of risk in their homes of origin and experience new risks, which compromise their health living on the streets. This article includes a nursing perspective which sheds light on homeless adolescents’ vulnerability for physical and emotional health problems due to violence, drug use, sex work and other issues related to street life.

Farrugia, D. (2011). Youth homelessness and individualised subjectivity. Journal Of Youth Studies, 14(7), 761-775.

According to Farrugia, homeless youth manage their existence by engaging in mental processes that inform them how they should react to their condition and surroundings. This article analyzes social structure as a factor, which affects homeless adolescents in various ways since homeless youth tend to come from homes of low socio-economic status and conflict. While homeless they face economic hardship, stigmatization and difficulties in attending school and finding work, which contributes to feelings of shame and worthlessness.

Ferguson, K. M., Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., Maccio, E. M., Xie, B., & Pollio, D. (2011). Social control correlates of arrest behavior among homeless youth in five U.S. cities. Violence & Victims, 26(5), 648-668.

A research study on street youth in major cities of the United States was conducted analyzing their delinquent activity. Mental health problems, alcohol and drug abuse as well as unemployment are situational factors, which affect homeless youth. These situational factors contribute to behaviors that lead to arrests, such as prostitution, theft and drug dealing. This article uses social control theory in its analysis of homeless youth behavior that leads to arrest.

Kalat, J. W. (2009). Biological psychology. (10th ed., pp. 68-81). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. Stopped editing here – mostly minor errors

The third chapter in this textbook discusses abused drugs and how they affect the brain. The effects of abusing stimulant drugs include attentional problems, impulsivity, a risk of stroke and epilepsy. Marijuana intensifies sensory experiences and makes users feel that time is passing slowly. Heroin produces a big rush and decreases pain sensitivity and awareness of the real world. Alcohol in large quantities reduces activity in some areas of the brain, which would normally inhibit risky behavior. Many abused drugs are habit-forming.

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2011). Social psychology. (8th ed., pp. 69-98). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

In discussing self-concept and the effect culture has on individuals, the authors of this book touch on the difference between individualist and collectivist cultures. Interdependence and group allegiances are characteristics of a collectivist culture. The conception of the self that emerges in collectivist culture is one that is affected by acceptance of the valued group. This chapter also discusses the need for self-esteem and how it may vary in individuals depending on experiences.

Kidd, S. (2007). Youth homelessness and social stigma. Journal Of Youth And Adolescence, 36(3), 291-299.

This article examines how social stigma affects self-esteem and impacts mental health in homeless adolescents. Since many homeless youth left unstable homes where they experienced abuse and may have been around alcoholism or drug abuse, they may have felt different from peers at school and experienced rejection in some cases. These experiences make them more sensitive to perceived social stigma when they are homeless. As a result, they may suffer from depression, suicidal ideation and other mental health problems.

Lyons, C., & Martin, B. (2011). Abnormal psychology. (4th ed., pp. 447-489). Redding, CA: BVT Publishing.

Chapter twelve in this textbook contains information about substance related disorders. It describes the difference between substance intoxication, dependence, abuse and withdrawal and how use of substances that change our mood and perception of reality is a universal practice that has existed for centuries. The risk of suffering from substance-induced disturbances, which include anxiety disorders, sleep problems and psychotic disorders increases when substances are combined or after prolonged use.

McCay, E., Quesnel, S., Langley, J., Beanlands, H., Cooper, L., Blidner, R., & … Bach, K. (2011). A relationship-based intervention to improve social connectedness in street-involved youth: A Pilot Study. Journal Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 24(4), 208-215.

This article discusses a pilot-study on homeless youth in Toronto and the effect of receiving support from social service agencies. Some participants chose to participate in the intervention, which included attending weekly sessions with clinicians who discussed topics that promoted social connectedness and resilience. Hopelessness was predicted to decrease as well as general mental health symptoms by strengthening positive relationships.

Merscham, C., Van Leeuwen, J. M., & McGuire, M. (2009). Mental health and substance abuse indicators among homeless youth in denver, colorado. Child Welfare, 88(2), 93-110.

This article examines the relationship of childhood trauma and substance abuse on the diagnosis of a mental disorder. It proposes that there is a correlation between the drug of choice and mental illness and trauma and suicidal ideation and other mental disorders in teens. In this study, a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome varied with heroin use and a significant relationship was also observed between trauma history and a Bipolar disorder diagnosis. A careful screening of homeless adolescents for mental disorders was recommended to meet their unique needs as a vulnerable population.

Oliveira, J., & Burke, P. (2009). Lost in the shuffle: Culture of homeless adolescents. Pediatric Nursing, 35(3), 154-161.

In this article, the authors describe the cultural characteristics of homeless adolescents. They create their own, unique culture, complete with language, values and normative guidelines that guide their interactions with each other and facilitate survival on the streets. The authors discuss the importance of these connections within the homeless youth community for mutual protection as well as the risks since survival behavior they engage in increases the risk of harm.

Schwartz, M., Sorensen, H., Ammerman, S., & Bard, E. (2008). Exploring the relationship between homelessness and delinquency: A snapshot of a group of homeless youth in san jose, California. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 25(4), 255-269.

This article discusses delinquency and moral reasoning in homeless adolescents. It touches on how the subculture of homeless adolescents with its own values affects how homeless youth relate to mainstream society and norms. The situational factors that contribute to delinquency are also considered as well as understanding how to reach out to homeless adolescents to stabilize them and decrease maladaptive behavior.

Ritzer, G. (2008). Modern sociological theory. (7th ed., pp. 213-253). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Chapter six in this book discusses Symbolic Interactionism. This theory posits that language in all of its forms, whether it is contained in internal dialogue, is audible or observed in the nuances of gestures, affects our interactions. Our understanding of an act or situation involves a complex process where we consider what we perceive and define it according to a potential sequence of actions. It is a dynamic theory, which offers that humans are creative beings who give meaning to their social experiences according to internal events, such as thoughts and external events, or their manifestation by others involved in the same interactive process of interpretation.

Raleigh-DuRoff, C. (2004). Factors that influence homeless adolescents to leave or stay living on the street. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21(6), 561-571.

This article describes a research study to identify factors, which contribute to homeless youth leaving the streets. Study participants who were homeless during adolescence discussed the role of hope as well as compassion from others in helping them return to mainstream life. Other factors identified were skill building assistance from social programs as well as assistance with substance abuse. In addition, the support of friends including other homeless adolescents who wanted to leave the streets contributed to their success in reintegrating with their families or mainstream society.

Smart, R. G., & Walsh, G. W. (1993). Predictors of depression in street youth. Adolescence, 28(109), 41-53

This article examines the relationship between depression in homeless adolescents and their drug and alcohol problems, family backgrounds, social support and self-esteem. The study predicted that homeless adolescents who came from unstable families where drugs and alcohol were used, did not have adequate social support, had self-esteem issues and were homeless for a longer duration, would have the highest incidence of depression among street youth. The living conditions of some homeless youth who live in overcrowded, noisy and dirty conditions in hostels was also considered as a contributing factor to depression.

Toro, P. A. (2006). Trials, tribulations, and occasional jubilations while conducting research with homeless children, youth, and families. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 52(2), 343-364.

This article discusses research that spanned twenty years. Toro’s research studies were about homelessness and poverty, so he included homeless adolescents in his research. He mentions the difficulty there was, initially in collecting data because of limited studies and not being able to locate homeless adolescents, even in urban cities. Using web-based tracking and collateral contacts, such as family members of homeless adolescents, he was able to find them and conduct a longitudinal study.

Whitbeck, L. B., Chen, X., Hoyt, D. R., Tyler, K. A., & Johnson, K. D. (2004). Mental disorder, subsistence strategies, and victimization among gay, lesbian, and bisexual homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal Of Sex Research, 41(4), 329-342.

This article focuses on the characteristics and behaviors homeless youth bring to the streets when they run away and their amplification. It compares heterosexual street youth with homosexual and bisexual homeless youth and their stressors. The authors discuss the differences between the two groups in their survival behaviors, victimization, family history of abuse and how these stressors increase the probability of major depressive episodes and other mental health disorders.

Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., Johnson, K. D., & Xiaojin, C. (2007). Victimization and posttraumatic stress disorder among runaway and homeless adolescents. Violence & Victims, 22(6), 721-734.

This article focuses on the effect negative experiences such as rape and living in a violent home during childhood have on homeless youths. While living in public spaces they are victimized physically and sexually. Females, especially have a heightened fear of being assaulted after surviving abuse at home and victimization on the streets. The article analyzes the relationship of these experiences with a lifetime prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the homeless adolescent population.

Very well done! You have a good RQ – you probably know by now from the literature you have reviewed whether your DV and IVs are one directional or two. If you have any question, please let me know. You have a good outline for your literature and very good sources. If you keep this topic for your senior project you should have a very good start.

In fact, this student did keep this topic, finished in less than two months, and earned an “H” (Honors) for the paper!