Youth homelessness and the transition to adulthood : how understanding life stage informs effective interventions
Packer, Timothy Paul
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Young people, because of their life stage, are widely thought to have distinct routes into homelessness and require different interventions than older adults. Youth-specific interventions are championed by those working in this sector. However, the scholarly case for what form such responses should take remains unclear. This thesis explores and strengthens the underpinning rationale and assumptions of current responses to youth homelessness. Specific research questions are as follows: What are the key factors influencing young people’s routes into homelessness? How useful is age as a proxy for understanding young people’s support and housing needs? In what circumstances, if any, is congregate supported accommodation a legitimate housing option for young people? What difference do distinct national and local policy approaches make to young people’s experiences of homelessness? Answers to these research questions draw on youth studies literature and a critical realist understanding of homelessness causation and new empirical data collection. The fieldwork for this study compares two local case studies, Newcastle upon Tyne and Glasgow, within the UK jurisdictions of England and Scotland. Interviews with National Key Informants (n = 16) involved in statutory and third sector policy and practice roles provided nation-level context on recent trends in youth homelessness. Local-level data from the two case studies included interviews with local practitioners (n = 15) and young people with current or recent experiences of homelessness (n = 23). Key findings are that young people’s routes into homelessness can be better explained by adopting learning from youth studies on the transition to adulthood. A proper understanding of youth studies literature, in combination with the findings of this study, makes clear that age has limited usefulness as a proxy for support and housing needs. It is argued that congregate supported accommodation is not an appropriate housing option for young people because of the intrinsically problematic impact such models have on developmental processes. The examples of local policies on prevention and housing-led approaches show meaningfully positive differences in young people’s homelessness experiences. However, lower welfare entitlements for young people create barriers to resolving homelessness and delay the developmental processes of reaching adulthood. Based on these findings, this thesis makes the case that a greater understanding of life stages is essential in delivering effective interventions for youth homelessness.