Abstract: Firearm Access and Suicide Risks Among Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness: A Seven City Study (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Firearm Access and Suicide Risks Among Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness: A Seven City Study

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR A, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Anthony Fulginiti, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Jarrod Call, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Robin Petering, PhD, Founder, Senior Researcher, Lens Co, Los Angeles, CA
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, Associate Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX
Jama Shelton, PhD, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Sarah Narendorf, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Kristin Ferguson, PhD, Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Kimberly Bender, PhD, Professor, University of Denver, CO
Introduction: Over 3.5 million young adults experiencing homelessness (YAEH) in the U.S. Without stable housing, YAEH are especially vulnerable to multiple and often times co-occurring risk factors for suicide (e.g., violence exposure). Therefore, YAEH are at high risk of developing suicidal ideation and engaging in suicide attempts. Having access to firearms during a suicidal crisis substantially elevates the risk of death by suicide. However, no known research has examined YAEH’s access to firearms and the intersection between such access and suicidal crises. This study aims to answer the following questions: (1) What proportion of YAEH have access to firearms? (2) Are YAEH with recent history of suicidal ideation and attempts more likely to also have access to firearms? By answering these questions, this study will provide critical information to guide intervention efforts in reducing YAHE’s suicide risk.

Methods: This study utilized data collected from a purposive sample of 1,426 YAEH recruited from community homeless service agencies in seven major cities across the US between 2016 and 2017. All YAEH were between 18 and 26 years old (Mage=20.9). The outcome of interest was the presence/absence of easy firearm access. The focal independent variables were the presence/absence of past year suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Covariates in the study included homelessness experiences, adverse childhood experiences, street victimization history, and mental health/psychosocial history. Descriptive analysis and logistic regression models were conducted to answer the two research questions.

Results: Over 34 percent YAEH reported they could gain “access to a firearm easily if they wanted to”. As for past-year suicidal crises, 27 percent had experienced suicidal ideation, while 14% had attempted suicide. Controlling for all other variables, both past-year suicidal ideation (OR=1.46; 95% CI=1.09-1.96) and suicide attempts (OR=1.43; 95% CI=1.02-2.04) were positively associated with easy access to firearms.

Conclusion and Implications: With previous literature highlighting fatal implications of firearm access during suicidal crises, findings of the study support our grave concerns that many young adults in this at-risk population have easy access to firearms. Even more worrisome, YAEH who had experienced recent suicidal crises were more likely to have easy firearm access. Curbing firearm access among YAEH, therefore, is critical to reduce suicide in this vulnerable group. Unfortunately, existing efficacious interventions aiming to reduce firearm access among people experiencing suicidal crises may not translate well to homelessness contexts. Future suicide risk reduction efforts should focus on adapting existing evidence-based interventions (e.g., free firearm locks/lockboxes provisions; buddy systems for storage) to address unique barriers among YAEH.