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

16775 Social Networks of Homeless Youth In Emerging Adulthood

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 2:30 PM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ian W. Holloway, MSW, MPH, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Suzanne Wenzel, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Brett Munjas, MS, Statistical Project Associate, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Daniela Golinelli, PhD, Research Associate, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Richard Bowman, PhD, Research Associate, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Joan Tucker, PhD, Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Background and Purpose: Youth who experience homelessness and who are living on their own are among the most marginalized individuals in the United States. These youth face multiple risks to their health, including substance use and sexual behaviors that may expose them to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (Wenzel, Tucker, Golinelli, Green, & Zhou, 2010). Homeless youth have received increasing attention in the scientific literature; however, studies rarely differentiate those between the ages of 18 and 24 from their younger counterparts (Halcon & Lifson, 2004; McMorris, Tyler, Whitbeck, & Hoyt, 2002; Thrane, Hoyt, Whitbeck, & Yoder, 2006). The present study sought to better understand the networks of homeless youth in emerging adulthood, including the risks and supports present in those networks, and whether these differ as a function of gender and sexual orientation.

Methods: A multi-stage sampling design was used to identify sites where Los Angeles homeless youth are found (i.e., shelters, drop-in centers, and street venues) and then randomly sample youth within the selected sites. Homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 24 were included for analysis in the present study (n = 349). Data was collected through individual, computer-assisted face-to-face structured interviews. Name generators were used to create egocentric social networks, which included information about where participants met alters. Previously established measures of social support (Johnson, et al., 2005), substance use, and sexual risk behavior were administered. Differences in mean percentages of network members between gender and sexual orientation were established by independent t-tests. Clustered bivariate logistic regression models compared support and risk characteristics of network members in a particular “where met” category versus all other categories of network members.

Results: Homeless emerging adults met the single largest proportion of network members on the street (26%), and this was true regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Eighteen percent were relatives, 15% were met through somebody else (e.g., friends of friends), and 7% were met through school. Relatively few network members were met in drop-in centers (5%), shelters (4%), venues such as parties, clubs or bars (3%), work (3%), transitional housing (3%), and online or phone line (2%). Social network members who were met on the street were among the least likely to provide support but the most likely to engage in risky sex and use alcohol and drugs with the youth. Relatives and sex partners were more likely than other network members to provide support, but sex partners also engaged in risky sex and substance use with the homeless youth.

Conclusions and Implications: Study findings illustrate the importance of focusing on homeless youth in the developmental stage of emerging adulthood. Although family members continue to play a supportive role in emerging adulthood, this fact must be balanced with the youth's need to experience greater levels of independence and to build ties with intimate partners (Arnett, 2001, 2004). Interventions should recognize the importance of intimate relationships during the developmental stage of emerging adulthood by enhancing supportive bonds and reducing substance use and risky sex among sex partners.

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