Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 12, pp 1634–1648 | Cite as

Increased Substance Use and Risky Sexual Behavior Among Migratory Homeless Youth: Exploring the Role of Social Network Composition

  • Steven C. Martino
  • Joan S. Tucker
  • Gery Ryan
  • Suzanne L. Wenzel
  • Daniela Golinelli
  • Brett Munjas
Empirical Research


Travelers are a migratory subgroup of homeless youth who may be especially prone to engaging in risky behavior. This study compared the substance use and sexual behavior of young homeless travelers and non-travelers to evaluate the extent and possible sources of travelers’ increased risk. Data came from face-to-face interviews with 419 homeless youth (36.6% female, 34.0% white, 23.9% African American, and 20.0% Hispanic) between the ages of 13 and 24 years (M = 20.1 years, SD = 2.5) who were randomly sampled from 41 shelters, drop-in centers, and street sites in Los Angeles. Travelers were almost twice as likely as non-travelers to exhibit recent heavy drinking, 37% more likely to exhibit recent marijuana use, and five times as likely to have injected drugs. Travelers also had more recent sex partners and were more likely to report having casual or need-based sexual partners and combining sex with substance use. Mediation analyses suggest that travelers’ deviant peer associations and disconnection to conventional individuals and institutions may drive their elevated substance use. Differences in sexual risk behaviors are likely attributable to demographic differences between the two groups. Overall, these differences between travelers and non-travelers suggest different service needs and the need for different service approaches.


Homeless youth Sexual behavior Drug use Alcohol use Social networks 


  1. Bailey, S. L., Camlin, C. S., & Ennett, S. T. (1998). Substance use and risky behavior among homeless and runaway youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 23, 378–388.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bauman, K., & Ennett, S. T. (1996). On the importance of peer influence for adolescent drug use: Commonly neglected considerations. Addiction, 91, 185–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boyce, G. (2010, May 12). Life on the streets as a New Orleans gutter punk. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from
  5. Brooks, R. A., Milburn, N. G., Rotheram-Borus, M. J., & Witkin, A. (2004). The system-of-care for homeless youth: Perceptions of service providers. Evaluation & Program Planning, 27, 443–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Youth risk behavior surveillance–United States, 2007. Surveillance Summaries, June 6, 2008. MMWR, 57 (No. SS-4).Google Scholar
  7. Chapman, B., & Hays, E. (2009, July 14). Punks invade Williamsburg as heroin-addicted hobos set up shop in trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. New York Daily News. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from
  8. Davey-Rothwell, M. A., German, D., & Latkin, C. A. (2008). Residential transience and depression: Does the relationship exist for men and women? Journal of Urban Health, 85, 707–716.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Rosa, C. J., Montgomery, S. B., Kipke, M. D., Iverson, E., Ma, J. L., & Unger, J. B. (1999). Service utilization among homeless and runaway youth in Los Angeles, California: Rates and reasons. Journal of Adolescent Health, 24, 449–458.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Des Jarlais, D. C., Perlis, T. E., & Settembrino, J. M. (2005). The use of electronic debit cards in longitudinal data collections with geographically mobile drug users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 77, 1–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ek, C. A., & Steelman, L. C. (1988). Becoming a runaway: From the accounts of youthful runners. Youth and Society, 19, 334–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ennett, S. T., Bailey, S. L., & Federman, E. (1999). Social network characteristics associated with risky behaviors among runaway and homeless youth. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40, 63–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ennew, J. (1994). Parentless friends: A cross-cultural examination of networks among street children and street youth. In F. Nestmann & K. Hurrelmann (Eds.), Social networks and social support in childhood and adolescence (pp. 409–426). New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Ferguson, K. M., Jun, J., Bender, K., Thompson, S., & Pollio, D. (2010). A comparison of addiction and transience among street youth: Los Angeles, California, Austin, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri. Community Mental Health Journal, 46, 296–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fernandez, A. (2006, November 29). Homeless youth: New York City’s nomadic subculture. Pace Press. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from
  16. German, D., Davey, M. A., & Latkin, C. A. (2007). Residential transience and HIV risk behaviors among injection drug users. AIDS and Behavior, 11(Suppl 2), 21–30.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greene, J. M., & Ringwalt, C. L. (1996). Youth and familial substance use’s association with suicide attempts among runaway and homeless youth. Substance Use and Misuse, 31, 1041–1058.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greene, J. M., Ringwalt, C. L., & Robertson, M. J. (1998). Familial background and risk behaviors of youth with thrownaway experiences. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 241–252.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hagan, J., & McCarthy, B. (1997). Mean streets: Youth crime and homelessness. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. (2002). Runaway/thrownaway children: National estimates and characteristics. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  21. Hirschi, T. (1977). Causes and prevention of juvenile delinquency. Sociological Inquiry, 47, 322–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hudson, A. L., Nyamathi, A., & Sweat, J. (2008). Homeless youths’ interpersonal perspectives of health care providers. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 29, 1277–1289.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hyde, J. (2005). From home to street: Understanding young people’s transitions into homelessness. Journal of Adolescence, 28, 171–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, T. P., Aschkenasy, J. R., Herbers, M. R., & Gillenwater, S. A. (1996). Self-reported risk factors for AIDS among homeless youth. AIDS Education and Prevention, 8, 308–322.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, K. D., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (2005a). Substance use disorders among homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal of Drug Issues, 35, 799–816.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson, K. D., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (2005b). Predictors of social network composition among homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 28, 231–248.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kipke, M. D., Montgomery, S. B., Simon, T. R., Unger, J., & Johnson, C. (1997a). Homeless youth: Drug use patterns and HIV risk profiles according to peer group affiliation. AIDS and Behavior, 1, 247–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kipke, M. D., Unger, J. B., O’Connor, S., Palmer, R. F., & LaFrance, S. R. (1997b). Street youth, their peer group affiliation and differences according to residential status, subsistence patterns, and use of services. Adolescence, 32, 655–669.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Korn, P. (2009, April 30). Sidewalk ordinance extended. Portland Tribune. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from
  30. Kral, A. H., Molnar, B. E., Booth, R. E., & Watters, J. K. (1997). Prevalence of sexual risk behaviour and substance use among runaway and homeless adolescents in San Francisco, Denver and New York City. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 8, 109–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lankenau, S. E., Sanders, B., Bloom, J. J., Hathazi, D., Alarcon, E., Tortu, S., et al. (2008). Migration patterns and substance use among young homeless travelers. In Y. F. Thomas, D. Richardson, & I. Cheung (Eds.), Geography and drug addiction (pp. 65–83). Guilford, UK: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Latkin, C. A., & Knowlton, A. R. (2005). Micro-social structural approaches to HIV prevention: A social ecological perspective. AIDS Care, 17(Suppl 1), 102–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Latkin, C. A., Mandell, W., Oziemkowska, M., Celentano, D., Vlahov, D., Ensminger, M., et al. (1995). Using social network analysis to study patterns of drug use among urban drug users at high risk for HIV/AIDS. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 38, 1–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. LeDuff, C. (1997, September 21). Making it work; Runaway girl. New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from
  35. MacKinnon, D. P. (2000). Contrasts in multiple mediator models. In J. Rose, L. Chassin, C. C. Presson, & S. J. Sherman (Eds.), Multivariate applications in substance use research: New methods for new questions (pp. 141–160). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. McCarthy, B., & Hagan, J. (1995). Getting into street crime: The structure and process of criminal embeddedness. Social Science Research, 24, 63–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McCarty, C. (2002). Measuring structure in personal networks. Journal of Social Structure, 3(1).Google Scholar
  38. McCarty, C., Bernard, H. R., Killworth, P. D., Johnsen, E. C., & Shelley, G. A. (1997). Eliciting representative samples of personal networks. Social Networks, 19, 303–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McCarty, C., Killworth, P. D., & Rennell, J. (2007). Impact of methods for reducing respondent burden on personal network structural measures. Social Networks, 29, 300–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mehra, A., Kilduff, M., & Brass, D. (2001). The social networks of high and low self-monitors: Implications for workplace performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 121–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nygaard, P. (2001). Intervention in social networks: A new method in the prevention of alcohol related problems. Addiction Research & Theory, 9, 221–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rice, E., Milburn, N. G., & Rotheram-Borus, M. J. (2007). Pro-social and problematic social network influences on HIV/AIDS risk behaviors among newly homeless youth in Los Angeles. AIDS Care, 19, 697–704.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rice, E., Milburn, N. G., Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Mallett, S., & Rosenthal, D. (2005). The effects of peer-group network properties on drug use among homeless youth. American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 1102–1123.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rice, E., Monro, W., Barman-Adhikari, M. A., & Young, S. D. (2010). Internet use, social networking, and HIV/AIDS risk for homeless adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 47, 610–613.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rice, E., Stein, J. A., & Milburn, N. (2008). Countervailing social network influences on problem behaviors among homeless youth. Journal of Adolescence, 31, 625–639.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rosenthal, D., Mallett, S., Milburn, N., & Rotheram-Borus, M. J. (2008). Drug use among homeless young people in Los Angeles and Melbourne. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43, 296–305.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Mahler, K. A., Koopman, C., & Langabeer, K. (1996). Sexual abuse history and associated multiple risk behavior in adolescent runaways. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 66, 390–400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Rosario, M., & Koopman, C. (1991). Minority youths at high risk: Gay males and runaways. In M. E. Colton & S. Gore (Eds.), Adolescent stress: Causes and consequences (pp. 181–200). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  49. Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E., Bloom, J. J., & Hathazi, D. (2008). Multiple drug use and polydrug use among homeless traveling youth. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 7, 23–40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Skinner, C. J. (1989). Domain means, regression and multivariate analyses. In C. J. Skinner, D. Holt, & T. M. F. Smith (Eds.), Analysis of complex surveys (pp. 59–88). Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  51. Toro, P. A., Dworsky, A., & Fowler, P. J. (2007). Homeless youth in the United States: Recent research findings and intervention approaches. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from
  52. Tyler, K. A. (2008). Social network characteristics and risky sexual and drug related behaviors among homeless young adults. Social Science Research, 37, 673–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tyler, K. A., Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Yoder, K. A. (2000). Predictions of self-reported sexually transmitted diseases among homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 369–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weir, B. W., Bard, R. S., O’Brien, K., Casciato, C. J., & Stark, M. J. (2007). Uncovering patterns of HIV risk through multiple housing measures. AIDS and Behavior, 11(Suppl 2), 31–44.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wenzel, S. L., Tucker, J. S., Golinelli, D., Green, H. D., Jr, & Zhou, A. (2010). Personal network correlates of alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use among homeless youth. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 112, 140–149.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (1999). Nowhere to grow: Homeless and runaway adolescents and their families. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  57. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Yoder, K. A. (1999). A risk-amplification model of victimization and depressive symptoms among runaway and homeless adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27, 273–296.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Winett, R. A., Anderson, E. S., Desiderato, L. L., Solomon, L. J., Perry, M., Kelly, J. A., et al. (1995). Enhancing social diffusion theory as a basis for prevention intervention: A conceptual and strategic framework. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 4, 233–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Young, S. D., & Rice, E. (2011). Online social networking technologies, HIV knowledge, and sexual risk and testing behaviors among homeless youth. AIDS and Behavior, 15, 253–260.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven C. Martino
    • 1
  • Joan S. Tucker
    • 2
  • Gery Ryan
    • 2
  • Suzanne L. Wenzel
    • 3
  • Daniela Golinelli
    • 2
  • Brett Munjas
    • 2
  1. 1.RAND CorporationPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  3. 3.School of Social WorkUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations