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Monday, September 9, 2019
The Experience of Homeless, Runaway and Other Street Youth on O‘ahu
By News Release @ 8:46 PM :: 4930 Views :: Family, Hawaii Statistics, Homelessness

The Experience of Homeless, Runaway and Other Street Youth on O‘ahu

From UH Center on the Family, September, 2019


Homelessness among youth is a serious and complex problem, with research showing that youth aged 12–17 are at higher risk than adults of becoming homeless. Older youth between 18 and 24, considered as transition-aged youth, are one of the fastest growing homeless populations. Nationally, most of the unaccompanied youth (89.0%) in the point-in-time estimates of homelessness were between the ages of 18 and 24. Transition-aged youth are still developing as young adults and need support until they are able to care for themselves. They require unique housing and services that are different than those tailored for adults or families.

Hawai‘i’s 2017 homeless point-in-time count reported 319 unaccompanied youth, with 82.0% of these youth living unsheltered and 92.0% of them between the ages of 18 and 24. In FY 2016, the state’s homeless service system served a total of 624 unaccompanied youth and almost all of them (93.6%) were transition-aged youth. Among service users, unaccompanied youth aged 18–24 had the lowest rate of permanent housing placement with only 26.1% exiting to a permanent home compared to 49.0% of all homeless service users.

Existing research and information on homeless and runaway youth in Hawai‘i are limited and perhaps dated. Data are often difficult to obtain due to the transitory nature of this population, the inconsistency of definitions for this population, and the lack of a standardized methodology for gathering counts of homeless and runaway youth. In addition, many of these young people do not seek formal support and may be difficult to identify.

In an effort to better understand the experiences and service needs of homeless and runaway youth on O‘ahu, the University of Hawai‘i Center on the Family partnered with Waikiki Health and Hale Kipa—two leading organizations that serve street youth on O‘ahu—to conduct the Street Youth Study. The research team at the University of Hawai‘i developed a survey consisting of 65 questions that focused on street youth and covered four sections:

  1. basic demographics,
  2. homeless and runaway experience,
  3. risk factors, and
  4. well-being and service utilization/needs.

Youth outreach workers from Waikiki Health and Hale Kipa recruited and interviewed 151 youth, aged 12–24, who gave their consent to participate in this study. The data provided by the youth is a snapshot of O‘ahu’s homeless and unaccompanied youth and furthers our understanding of this population’s experiences and service needs.

This study reveals a range of demographic backgrounds and experiences among street youth:

  • Almost half (44.4%) of those surveyed were Hawaiian or part Hawaiian.
  • The majority of the respondents (58.9%) were male.
  • Nearly a fifth (17.2%) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning.
  • About a quarter (24.5%) had dropped out of school, and approximately half were considered idle (neither in school nor employed).

Youth reported a variety of living arrangements:

  • 59.6% were living unaccompanied, 33.1% in a family household, and 7.3% as the household head with their own children.
  • At some point in their lives, all of them experienced homelessness and sought temporary places to sleep at night (such as the streets, cars, abandoned buildings, emergency or transitional shelters, and transitional housing).

Respondents offered a picture of their homeless experiences:

  • Almost half (48.0%) had their first homeless experience with their families.
  • The average age of the first homeless episode was 14.1 years.
  • Almost three-fourths (72.2%) were currently homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.
  • 59.4% reported being homeless for one year or more.
  • Nearly a fifth (17.9%) also considered themselves current runaways or throwaways.
  • The most common reasons for currently being homeless or having been homeless were family discord, lifestyle choice, disagreeing with rules at home, and being kicked out.

The majority of respondents experienced some risk factors for youth homelessness, including:

  • 39.7% had interactions with the foster care system and 48.3% with juvenile detention.
  • Over half (50.3%) had been exposed to parental substance abuse, 60.9% to parental incarceration, and 22.5% were from military families.
  • Over three-quarters (77.5%) experienced abuse.

Respondents’ health issues are of concern:

  • About a quarter (26.2%) described their health as “fair” or “poor” compared to just 5.6% of youth in general U.S. population.
  • 13.9% reported having a physical or developmental disability, or been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
  • 88.1% had used substances in the past 30 days, and 32.5% had been admitted to a drug treatment program.
  • 31.8% had committed self-harming acts such as cutting or burning themselves.
  • 39.7% had suicidal thoughts and 58.3% of them had attempted suicide—indicating that some youth could benefit from treatment that addresses their physical, emotional and psychological health issues.

The types of services that teens and young adults sought can provide insight into the priority of their needs:

  • Services accessed by the majority of respondents included hot meals (75.5%), clothing and hygiene supplies (69.5%), showers (69.5%), laundry facilities (52.3%), and clinic services (50.3%).
  • Respondents preferred services that met basic needs over ones such as airfare assistance for family reunification (4.6%), treatment for substance use (13.9%), and GED classes (15.9%).

Given the complexities of this population’s experiences, services and supports could benefit from taking multidimensional approaches to address the needs of this population. In general, services should address the physical needs around hunger, hygiene and basic health. Beyond basic physical care, street youth who engage in survival sex or other risky sexual behaviors could also benefit from more intensive health services, including treatment for sexually transmitted infections and healthcare for unplanned pregnancies. Mental health services can assist with challenges such as trauma, depression and addiction. Moreover, street youth could find value in services aimed at building their life skills: self-care, financial management, conflict resolution, goal-setting, problem-solving, parenting know-how, communication and coping.

Furthermore, since a significant portion of these young people could not be reached through traditional points of contact such as schools and shelters, interventions and prevention programs that are available through a variety of modes could be beneficial. Considering that homeless youth use different types of temporary housing locations, including friends’ and other family members’ homes, hotels and unsheltered settings, service providers may need to find creative ways to reach this population.

In Hawai‘i, a limited range of efforts and programs—from outreach programs to drop-in centers—exist that aim to address the needs of Hawai‘i’s homeless and unaccompanied youth. Nevertheless, the current programs and their funding levels may not be enough to adequately address the various needs among this diverse population.

A fully resourced service delivery system requires a range of supportive and housing service components specific to the unique and varied needs of homeless youth. Since street youth commonly utilize different types of services, come in-and-out of homelessness, and have changing needs, prevention and intervention programs that embrace collaboration among organizations and move towards a coordinated system of care will help tackle youth homelessness. Families, schools, caring adults and communities are all important for supporting youth and preventing youth homelessness. To end youth homelessness, what are needed are interventions that provide stable housing as well as supportive connections to caring adults and services that guide towards long-term success.

The purpose of this study is to serve as a starting point for further discussion and research. The data provided paints a picture of street youth on O‘ahu, but only in broad strokes. Being able to accurately describe the breadth of youth homelessness across the state is imperative for providing effective supports that will transition youth from the streets and toward a brighter future.

read … Full Report

SA: Hawaii’s homeless young adults


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