Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) COVID-19 & Youth Homelessness Prevention: A Critical and Grounded Framework for Understanding the Impact and Efficacy of Policies and Programs Designed to Support Marginal Youth Experiencing Homelessness in a Time of COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

487P (see Poster Gallery) COVID-19 & Youth Homelessness Prevention: A Critical and Grounded Framework for Understanding the Impact and Efficacy of Policies and Programs Designed to Support Marginal Youth Experiencing Homelessness in a Time of COVID-19

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Dawn Onishenko, PhD, Associate Professor, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Marco Giuliani, BSW, Graduate Student, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Dionisio Nyaga, PhD, Assistant Professor, Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada
Marin Piccinini, BSW, Research Assistant, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Rose Torres, PhD, Director; Associate Professor, Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: Though homelessness affects youth across Canada, those experiencing marginalization due to their social identities, including race, Indigeneity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and citizenship, are disproportionately at risk of being precariously housed/homeless due to multifaceted factors and the layers of discrimination woven within social policies and practices, leaving them vulnerable to increased levels of harassment, policing, depression, and addiction. This research seeks to understand how social identities have impacted the experiences of social services, supports, and programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through interviews with youth, front-line workers, and service managers, this research provides insight into the impacts of the policies and services that were developed and implemented during the pandemic to address the needs of marginalized homeless youth. The events surrounding the pandemic exposed flaws in our social welfare system, particularly for vulnerable populations; this research offers critical information for redressing these inequities.

Methods: Qualitative grounded research explores the compounded effect of COVID-19 on marginalized homeless youth. Research conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 16 precariously housed youth (aged 16-28), identifying as being part of a marginalized community(ies), 11 frontline housing/homelessness workers, including shelter/drop-in workers and street outreach workers, and 9 service delivery managers, including executive directors, managers and program directors. Participants were in Ontario and interviewed via Zoom. Recruitment occurred through posted flyers, social media, and emailing agencies. The study asks: What challenges do marginalized homeless youth face during the pandemic in terms of housing, mental health, substance use and other services; what are their experiences in regard to bullying, social exclusion, policing, and access to appropriate services, and; what should our responses to marginalized youth homelessness look like in a post-pandemic context. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using NVivo software.

Findings: Grounded in participant voice, findings reveal what works/does not work for youth as well as identifies agencies’ learnings and highlights key policy/program recommendations. Participants report social distancing requirements, causing a shift to private rooms, was significant to the health and wellbeing of marginalized youth and increased safety. Findings highlight identity specific services provide safer spaces and describe the erasure of identity in systems; program providers acknowledge the lack of systematic identity specific data collection and cannot report a comprehensive/intersectional demographic profile. Service providers note the increased community support for their work and the value this brings.

Conclusion and Implications: This study calls for social work to engage with structural issues facing historically excluded communities in ways that are intersectional and complex. Learnings from hidden injustices unmasked during Covid-19 can offer the opportunity to provide insight toward unravelling the historical disparities of colonization, racism and anti-Black racism, homophobia, ableism and heteropatriarchy and provide social work practice with requisite tactics and strategies for transformational practice with marginalized communities. The benefit of this study includes providing a platform for homeless youth to have their voices and experiences heard and generating data to inform policymakers and service delivery managers regarding what works for marginalized homeless youth and what does not work within programs and policy.