Methods: A large sample of homeless and unstably housed youth aged 18-25 (n=1,426) were recruited and surveyed via diverse venues (e.g., drop-in centers, shelters, and transitional living programs) across seven urban cities in the U.S. The self-administered anonymous survey includes questions regarding demographic information, violence exposure history, and risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk and violent behaviors). Gun violence perpetration was a dichotomous variable measured by whether youth had ever “shot a gun at another individual”. Independent variables of interest investigated in the study included: duration of homelessness, gun access, gang affiliation, criminal justice system engagement, street victimization, past childhood maltreatment, substance use, and mental health status. Logistic regression models were conducted to investigate potential correlates of homeless youth’s perpetration of gun violence.
Results: Overall, around 17% of youth in the study had shot someone in the past. Consistent with previous literature regarding violent behaviors among youth in general, being female (OR=0.30; 95%CI=0.18-0.50) was negatively associated with perpetration of gun violence. In fact one out of four male youth had engaged in gun violence perpetration. Gun access (OR=3.96; 2.69-5.81), gang affiliation (OR=5.45; 95%CI=3.68-8.07), couch surfing (as compared to living in shelters; OR=1.71; 95%CI=1.04-2.81), street physical victimization (OR=7.08; 95%CI=3.89-12.88), and hard drug use (OR=1.62; 95%CI=1.07-2.46) were associated with elevated risk of homeless youth's gun violence perpetration.
Conclusion: Gun violence perpetration is prevalent among homeless youth, especially among homeless male youth. Future intervention efforts in reducing gun violence among homeless youth should target this homeless subpopulation. Without stable housing, youth may embrace violence as a strategy to protect themselves from victimization and to make subsistence needs met. Indeed, this study found that homeless youth may be enmeshed within a violent culture (e.g., violence exposure and gang affiliation) that may promote their perpetration of gun violence. Gun violence reduction interventions targeting homeless youth should adopt trauma informed care in addressing their violence exposure experiences during homelessness. Such interventions should also take homeless youth’s gang affiliation into consideration to address the role gang memberships may play on youth’s engagement in gun perpetration. Finally, community level interventions should also consider strategies to reduce gun access especially for youth with unstable housing.