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

122P Resiliency Among Highly-Transient Homeless Young Adults: An Exploratory Study

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Angie Lippman, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Sanna Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Tiffany Ryan, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Katherine L. Montgomery, MSSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Kristin M. Ferguson, PhD, Associate Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Most research on homeless young adults highlights the severity of multiple health and behavioral risks. Recently, researchers have argued that an emphasis on strengths and resilience is needed to understand and treat this vulnerable population. Despite facing multiple obstacles associated with trauma and victimization, physical and sexual abuse, risky sexual behavior, substance use, and mental health problems, homeless young adults often persevere and display extraordinary coping skills while living in precarious environments. In an effort to understand the personal strengths and resiliency of homeless young adults, this study examined how mental health challenges, perceptions of the future, and coping strategies affect homeless young adults' capacity to survive amid adverse life events.

Methods: A convenience sample (n=200) of highly transient, homeless young adults (18-24 years) was recruited for participation through a street outreach, drop-in center located in a large urban city in the southern United States. Self-report, standardized measures were conducted orally to control for literacy problems. Data collection consisted of reliable scales measuring participants' individual characteristics (demographics), DSM-IV criteria for mental health challenges (depression, trauma) using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI), coping strategies (avoidant, healthy) using the Coping Scale, and perceptions of the future (optimism, pessimism) using the Future Time Perspective Scale. The dependent variable, resiliency, was measured using the Resilience Scale. Multiple regression analyses examined these factors in relation to resiliency.

Results: Participants averaged 21 years of age and were predominately male (64%) and Caucasian (76%). Most youth (63%) had been living in a shelter, on the street, or squatting in abandoned houses, motels, hotels, or cars. Over one-fourth (27%) had experienced a drug overdose; more than half (62%) reported being threatened with serious bodily harm/death, had been physically assaulted (60.5%) or sexually assaulted (22%). Following bivariate analyses, OLS regression was conducted. The final model demonstrated that lower levels of depression, utilizing a variety of coping strategies, including actively dealing with problems, and having optimistic perceptions of the future significantly predicted higher resilience, F(5, 183)=28.557, p<.001. Utilizing a variety of coping strategies was the greatest predictor of resiliency among homeless young adults. The model accounted for 44% of the variance.

Conclusions: Homeless young adults who are living in dangerous environments are often considered deviant. Although vulnerable, these young people face significant challenges on the streets; focusing solely on their maladaptive nature perpetuates negative stereotypes that overlook their personal strengths. Findings suggest that homeless young adults who utilize various coping mechanisms, feel optimistic about the future and do not suffer from mental health problems have higher levels of resiliency. Practitioners and service providers who work with this population must recognize that personal strengths, coping mechanisms, and optimism may facilitate increased engagement with this population. Effective interventions that acknowledge the resiliency of this population can assist homeless young people in adopting a more future-oriented perspective that enables them to plan for their life goals, effect positive change, and potentially transition out of homelessness.