Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16283 Technology Use In Homeless Young Adults: Results From a Focus Group Study

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:30 PM
Independence D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
David E. Pollio, PhD, Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Ashley Hudson, Graduate Student, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Jeremiah W. Jaggers, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Kristin M. Ferguson, PhD, Associate Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Jennifer McClendon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Background: For homeless young adults, issues of addiction, transience, and social isolation often result in this population being extremely difficult to engage and retain in services. With the development and popularization of technology among youth and young adults, a new potential avenue exists to provide services to this difficult-to-reach population. Research by this team has documented widespread technology use, yet the roles technology plays in this population's lives are not well understood. Thus, the purpose of this study is to explore how this population understands the role that technology plays in their lives. Methods: Homeless young adults (ages 18-24) were recruited at two multiservice agencies, one in New York City and a second in Los Angeles. Four focus groups (total n=65) were held at each site: three with young adults in specific programs (crisis intervention, short term and transitional housing services) and a fourth with program staff. A thematic analysis was conducted on focus group transcriptions. Themes were identified by independent coders, blocks of interactions were coded into themes through a consensus procedure, and the resulting themes were interpreted first individually then through a separate consensus procedure. Results: Analyses revealed six themes: connecting people (socializing within networks of other young adult homeless, and maintaining relationships with families and long-term friends), meeting needs (information, entertainment, available services, illicit needs), importance of technology (identity and technology, overall importance), technological sophistication (ability to use multiple types of technology, knowledge of specific types of technology, computer sophistication), technology use at the agency (needs to improve equipment, suggestions for technology use, blocking of web access), and specific technologies (communication, social, texting, information, 76 programs and applications total listed). All six themes appeared in each focus group, were discussed by multiple individuals (range 42-59 individuals mentioned specific themes) across in multiple blocks of interactions (range 41-101). Discussion: The results add to previous findings documenting the high prevalence of technology use among this population. Technology appears to play a major role in the day-to-day existence for these young adults. Participants were sophisticated in their use of technology, used a variety of applications and social networking sites, highly valued technology use, assigned different roles in communication based on using different types of technology, and emphasized that style of internet sites impacted their likelihood of use. These findings suggest the potential for technology as a means to access and provide services to this socially isolated population. Findings also suggest that use of specific types of technology, without understanding the role attributed to their use or attending to the style of the application may potentially confound the effectiveness of interventions.
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