Abstract: Immediate Needs of Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness and Housing Instability during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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38P Immediate Needs of Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness and Housing Instability during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Laura Onasch-Vera, MSW, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Nicole Thompson, MSW, Research Associate, Lens Co
Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Ryan Polsky, MSW Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Robin Petering, PhD, Founder, Senior Researcher, Lens Co, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: COVID-19 has presented challenges across communities and populations, with individuals experiencing homelessness at particular risk of facing difficulties accessing continuity of care, following quarantine procedures, and abiding by stay-at-home orders as a result of the pandemic. A rapid needs assessment was created in order to understand the current needs of young adults experiencing homelessness or housing instability (YAEH) after both a national and state of emergency in California were issued in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: A 50-item rapid needs assessment was developed and distributed to young people ages 18-25 at a young adult serving agency in San Jose, CA. The survey was distributed through a self-administered electronic link that agency staff sent to their clients who accessed homelessness services or were in temporary housing programs. The survey was anonymous and addressed areas of concern among this population in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic including employment, financial barriers, COVID-19 knowledge, access to services, and stress. A convenience sample of 207 young people completed the survey within a period of 72 hours. Participants were compensated $30 via electronic payment upon completion. One-third of the participants identify as LGBTQ+, 57% identify as Hispanic/Latinx, 36% reported it was their first time at the homeless service agency, and 48% reported living somewhere other than their own apartment or family’s home.

Results: Several themes emerged within the data, including employment and food insecurity, challenges in accessing services, stress as it relates to experiencing COVID-19, and overall COVID-19 knowledge. Immediately after COVID-19, nearly half of young people lost employment or had hours reduced and 38% reported that their living situation changed. One-quarter of the sample were unemployed prior to COVID-19, however, of those who lost employment since COVID-19, the majority (69%) had not yet applied for unemployment. Those that remained employed were in frontline, essential work and services. 59% reported experiencing difficulty accessing food during this time compared to before COVID-19. Over half of young people reported not being able to access a particular staff member due to staff working remotely and stopped coming to receive services as a result of COVID-19. 47% of young people reported feeling stressed from hearing about the crisis. 90% of young people had accurate knowledge regarding COVID-19 (i.e. the ways to prevent infection and spread, COVID-19 symptoms, and understanding the potential for spread when asymptomatic).

Conclusions and Implications: YAEH not only face the immense impact of the pandemic like the remainder of the general population, but are also at heightened risk in experiencing other barriers and challenges as a result of their unstable housing status. Understanding the impact COVID-19 has on YAEH has implications on both policy and resource allocation. These findings highlight the need for funding to be allocated to the resources utilized by this population prior to and during a pandemic like COVID-19, including young adult serving agencies that provide case management/stress management, basic needs, educational, vocational, and crisis intervention services.