Methods: A sample of 1,047 YEH was collected 2011-2013 from drop-in centers in Los Angeles, CA. YEH provided self-reports of current living situation, coded into “couch surfing” (staying with relatives, friends, sex partners temporarily), staying outside (streets, parks, beaches, automobiles, abandoned buildings), or shelter (emergency shelter or transitional housing). YEH reported on network support, coded as number of street-based peers providing support, number of family members providing support, number of home-based peers providing support, and number of service providers. YEH also reported on service utilization, days in past month using housing placement services and food services. Correlations and multivariable regression models were conducted in SAS 9.4.
Results: Most youth (62.9%) reported staying outside, 23.5 % reported “couch surfing”, and 13.8% were in shelter. YEH who “couch surf” reported significantly more support from street-based peers, home-based peers, and family. Multivariable regression models showed that compared to street-staying youth, both couch surfing (p<.01) and sheltered (p<.001) youth reported more days using housing placement services. Moreover, more connections to street peers (p,.05) and home-based peers (p,.05) were both negatively related to using housing placement services, whereas connections to staff was positively associated (p<.001). Relative to YEH staying outside, “couch surfing” youth reported less use of food services (p<.01) but no difference with sheltered youth. Connections to street-based peers (p<.001) and family (p<.05) were both positively associated with food services, while connections to home-based peers (p<.001) was negatively associated.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate that YEH who “couch surf” receive greater levels of support from a greater diversity of connections, and that these relationships significantly impact service utilization patterns relative to YEH living on the streets. Differences in accessing housing placement services suggest the relative stability provided by even temporary accommodations may enable YEH who “couch surf” or stay in shelters to connect with housing opportunities more readily. Further, the influence of street-based and home-based peers on housing and food services may point toward a preference among “couch surfing” youth to utilize their social networks to meet basic needs over more formalized social supports.