Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Background and purpose: Estimates suggest there may be up to 2 million homeless youth in the United States. Youth experiencing homelessness (YEH), particularly in NYC, disproportionately identify as racial minorities, as well as LGBTQ. Research consistently highlights the negative impact of racial and ethnic discrimination on mental health outcomes in YEH. For example, race-based trauma is linked to depression, anger, physical reactions, avoidance, hypervigilance/arousal, and low self-esteem. Preliminary research suggests that youth who experience discrimination and stigmatization based on their homelessness are at an additional risk for low self-esteem, loneliness, and suicidal ideation. The impact of stigma and discrimination is especially harmful for individuals who have experienced trauma, as is true for a disproportionate number of homeless youth. This harm has the potential to extend into adulthood for YEH, disrupt executive functioning (i.e., tasks associated with daily productivity and organizational skills), and limit their successful integration into the community. The purpose of this study was to explore the association of discrimination, in the form of microaggressions and executive functioning among YEH. Methods: 147 homeless youth, ages 16 to 24 were recruited from several local NYC drop in centers and completed a survey that took approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete. The average age of participants was 20 years old and the majority of the sample identified as Black or Brown. Youth were given a $20 gift card for their participation. The survey included the previously validated Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale and an author designed and validated homelessness microaggressions scale. Information regarding daily productivity was collected using the SF-36 Health/Medical Outcomes Scale. Participants were screened for PTSD and suicidal ideation as well using validated measurement tools. Findings: Preliminary analysis reveals that homelessness microaggressions in the form of “assumptions of inferiority” and “invisibility” were associated with reduced productivity, r = -.37, p = .000 and r = .-.36, p = .000, respectively. Additionally, racial invalidation microaggressions and school/workplace racial microaggressions were associated with reduced daily productivity, r = -.30, p = .000 and r = .29, p = .000, respectively. Trauma symptoms related to hyperarousal were also significantly correlated to homelessness inferiority (r = .56, p = .000) and invisibility (r = .41, p = .000) microaggressions. Conclusions/Implications: This study found that increases in experiences of homelessness and racial microaggressions were associated with reduced daily productivity, suggesting possible disruption of executive functioning among YEH. Homelessness discrimination experiences were also associated with trauma symptoms related to hyperarousal. Understanding associations between discrimination experiences, trauma, and reduced productivity may help social workers and policy makers to develop interventions that focus on community and practitioner awareness of bias and discrimination and on programmatic changes that focus on support for executive functioning for YEH. Future research should test interventions designed to directly support executive functioning and decrease trauma symptomology associated with discrimination experiences. Additional implications for social work practice, research, and policy will be discussed.