The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Correlates of Transience Among Homeless Young Adults

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Riverview, Lower Parking Level, Elevator Level P1 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Kristin M. Ferguson, PhD, Associate Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Sanna Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose:

Prior research suggests that homeless young adults are highly transient. The association between transience and negative outcomes in this population, such as increased risk for health problems, treatment attrition, and loose connections to supportive adults and institutions, has been established. In contrast, transience can also be an adaptive behavior and a means through which homeless young people accomplish broader life goals. In these cases, frequent moves may be related to prosocial outcomes. However, these positive associations with transience have received less attention in the literature. The present study addresses this gap by investigating both risk and resilience correlates of transience using the risk and resilience framework. Quantitative findings were complemented with qualitative descriptions of homeless young adults’ motivations for traveling. The study hypotheses stated that greater transience would be reported by those who (1) were homeless longer; (2) had greater criminal justice histories; (3) earned income from informal sources; (4a) reported prior physical abuse and (4b) emotional abuse; (5) met criteria for alcohol/drug addiction; and (6) had higher levels of resilience.


A QUANT --> qual design was used in this mixed-methods study. Six hundred homeless young adults (ages 18-24) were recruited from agencies providing homeless youth services in Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; and Denver, CO (200 young adults per city). Purposeful, maximum variation sampling was used to recruit participants. A quantitative retrospective questionnaire sought information on demographics, homelessness history, criminal history, informal resources, physical/emotional abuse, substance abuse, and resilience. A subsequent qualitative interview with the first 50 of 200 participants in each city explored their perceptions of trauma, coping strategies, substance use, and transience. OLS regression was conducted to analyze associations between correlates and transience. Grounded theory and the constant comparative method guided the qualitative data analysis using MAXQDA software.



The full model with all correlates was significantly associated with homeless young adults’ transience (F=18.128, p<.001) and explained 39% of the variance in transience. Specifically, greater transience was associated with longer time homeless, greater juvenile-detention involvement, informal income generation, greater physical abuse, and alcohol/drug dependency. Higher scores on the resiliency sub-scales (self-reliance and meaning) were also associated with greater transience. Qualitative findings on common reasons for transience illustrated the risk and resilience correlates. Key themes included locating safe places to sleep, escaping legal problems, leaving abusive relationships, escaping drug problems, and achieving life goals.

Conclusions and Implications:

The qualitative interviews supported quantitative findings, yet raise new questions regarding how transience functions as both a maladaptive and adaptive behavior. In the event that transience is maladaptive, risk factors identified here should be incorporated into services to prevent transience. In contrast, if transience is adaptive, then the identified resilience characteristics may contribute to a more complete understanding of why this population chooses to run, and what long-term outcomes are associated with transience. Identifying correlates of transience will facilitate customizing interventions that, when needed, aim to stabilize homeless young adults, prevent their mobility, and/or offer mobile services to them on the road.