Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00002098/00001
 Material Information
Title: Homeless Street Youth: Personal Strengths and External Resources
Physical Description: Fact Sheet
Creator: Zhang, Jing
Publisher: University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2007
Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Melanie Mercer.
Publication Status: Published
General Note: "First published October 2007."
General Note: "FCS2281"
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the submitter.
System ID: IR00002098:00001

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1. This document is FCS2281, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extens ion Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Firs t published October 2007. Please visit the EDI S Web Site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu 2. Jing Zhang, M.S., and Kate Fogart y, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperati ve Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Scie nces, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611. The Institute of Food and Agricu ltural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, r eligion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, nationa l origin, political opinions, or affiliations U.S. Department of Agriculture, Coope rative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperati ng. FCS2281 Homeless Street Youth: Personal Strengths and External Resources1 Jing Zhang and Kate Fogarty2 Who are homeless youth? Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 years who spend at least one night on the streets, in public places, or in shelters are considered homeless. Around two million children run away from home each year in the U.S., and most are likely to end up homeless (Bender, Thompson, McManus, Lantry, & Flynn, 2007). What do we know about homeless youth? Research on homeless youth has explored their challenging living situati ons and life stresses. Most findings focus on the mental and physical health risks of home less youth, including: Depression Anxiety Suicide Trauma Substance abuse School difficulties Legal problems (Kidd & Davidson, 2007). Homeless youth are also at increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS (Rew & Horner, 2003). Criminologists believe that homeless youth lack self-control. Low self-control is significantly linked to deviant behaviors (Baron, 2003). Service providers, law enforcement, peers, and society alike often stigmatize this group of youth (Bender et al., 2007). Such problemoriented viewpoints label homeless youth as deficient or deviant.


Homeless Street Youth: Personal St rengths and External Resources Page 2 A new look at homeless youth Current research is moving away from this problem-oriented point of view to concentrate more on the strengths of homeless youth. This view focuses on the resilience of youth, as demonstrated by their extraordinary coping and survival skills. Protective factors that can help homeless youth cope include: Self-reliance Feelings of self-worth Positive motivation Reliance on spirituality Good connections with other people Research shows that homeless youth are in the process of re-establishin g their sense of self, their relationships with others, and their ability to fit into street culture as well as mainstream culture (Bender et al ., 2007; Kidd & Davidson, 2007). The following strengths have been revealed through interviews w ith homeless youth (Bender et al., 2007). 1. Personal strengths: coping skills, motivation, attitude, and spirituality Homeless youth are resourcef ul in their capacity to locate resources, such as free lunches from charity organizations or drop-in centers. They tend to maintain a positive attitude about their lives, believe that their situation will improve, and be motivated by other young people's successful transitions fr om street life. Some believe that a higher power is watching out for and protecting them (Bender et al., 2007). 2. External resources: peer networks and society Homeless youth rely on trustworthy peers as well as adults for emotional support and protection while on the street. They readily share useful information and resources with their peers (Bender et al., 2007). 3. Street smarts: Balancing inner strengths with the social environment Homeless youth must figure out whom they can trust and find a balanc e between self-reliance and help from others. This ability helps them to locate useful resources while avoiding being controlled by exploitative people and situations (Bender et al., 2007). Implications for practice Community-based programs and service providers often focus on homeless youth's deficiencies and risk fa ctors. This perspective neglects to acknowledge their positive assets and skills. For example, an evaluation of staffclient conflict in a drop-in center demonstrated that staff regularly promoted the beliefs that street youth behave poorly and need to be disciplined and contro lled. Such staff-held beliefs create and escalate staff-client conflicts. It is possible that hom eless youth desire to express their positive sense of self but are denied and delegitimized by service providers (Joniak, 2005). Moreover, homeless youth may be accustomed to living by their own set of rules. Youth shelters and centers with strictly enforced and numerous rules are likely to become a last resort for homeless youth (Borden et al., 2007). Effective service prog rams for homeless youth should be strengths-based, not problemoriented, empowering youth to gain a sense of control over their lives. Al so, it is important for teens to feel a sense of safety that is based on trust, not just on "rules." Programs that focus on skills and strength-building will help homeless youth adapt to hardships and successfully move into adulthood. For example, health care providers should familiarize themselves with the strengths of homeless youth. This can help them promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles. In addition to improving the coping skills of homeless youth, service programs should help these youth to acquire a sense of self and self-worth and to plan their life course, while providing them with


Homeless Street Youth: Personal St rengths and External Resources Page 3 opportunities to build competencies for adulthood (Bender et al., 2007; Kidd & Davidson, 2007). References Baron, S. W. (2003). Self-control, social consequences, and criminal behavior: street youth and the general theory of crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40 (4), 403-425. Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., McManus, H., Lantry, J., & Flynn, P. M. (2007). Capacity for survival: exploring strengths of homeless street youth. Child Youth Care Forum, 36, 25-42. Borden, L., Serido, J., Abril, M., Woodridge, K., & Dang, D. (May, 2007). Youth driven programs to promote social justice and civic responsibility. Presentation at CYFAR Conference, Chicago, IL. Joniak, E. A. (2005). Exclusionary practices and the delegitimization of client voice. American Behavioral Scientist 48 (8), 961-988. Kidd, S. A., & Davidson, L. (2007). "You have to adapt because you have no other choice": The stories of strength and resilience of 208 homeless youth in New York City and Toronto. Journal of Community Psychology, 35 (2), 219238. Rew, L., & Horner, S .D. (2003). Personal strengths of homeless adolescents living in a high-risk environment. Advances in Nursing Science, 26 (2), 90-101.