Incorporating Youth Voice into Services for Young People Experiencing Homelessness

  • Jonah DeChantsEmail author
  • Kimberly Bender
  • Kelsey Stone


Homeless youth are typically served through a traditional service system that provides important basic needs but tends to be limited in scope, deficit-based, and adult-led, creating challenges for engaging youth in making real change in their lives. In contrast, a youth voice approach emphasizes building relationships with youth, holistically and as respected partners in services. Several different practice frameworks may help homeless service providers integrate youth voice into their programming. A positive youth development (PYD) approach aims to build assets in young people, often by empowering them through skill building, team-based activities, and projects. Empowerment practice has emerged as a way to promote youth agency and leadership. And, recently, a trauma-informed lens has permeated many homeless youth services. This chapter describes these three frameworks, outlines how such frameworks can lead to the empowerment of marginalized youths’ voices, and reviews the most recent literature on empowerment programming with homeless youth. The chapter concludes that providing services to young people experiencing homelessness through a lens of youth voice is likely to help youth strengthen social networks while building individual skills useful in exiting the streets.


Homeless youth Empowerment Positive youth development Homeless services Youth voice Empowerment theory Services Youth participatory action research Resilience Shelter Transitional housing Trauma Social justice Trauma-informed care Self-efficacy Power sharing Safety Supportive relationships Skill building Positive social norms Protective factors Rick factors Trauma awareness Consumer choice Strengths-based approach 

Supplementary material

441379_1_En_16_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
(DOCX 27 kb)


  1. 76 Fed. Reg. 233 (2011). Rules and regulations. Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States. Accessed 27 July 2018.
  2. Auerswald, C. L., & Eyre, S. L. (2002). Youth homelessness in San Francisco: A life cycle approach. Social Science and Medicine, 54(10), 1497–1512.Google Scholar
  3. Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., McManus, H., Lantry, J., & Flynn, P. M. (2007). Capacity for survival: Exploring strengths of homeless street youth. Child and Youth Care Forum, 36(1), 25–42.Google Scholar
  4. Bender, K., Ferguson, K., Thompson, S., Komlo, C., & Pollio, D. (2010). Factors associated with trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder among homeless youth in three U.S. cities: The importance of transience. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23(1), 161–168.Google Scholar
  5. Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., Ferguson, K. M., Yoder, J., & Kern, L. (2014). Trauma among street-involved young adults. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 22, 53–64.Google Scholar
  6. Bender, K., Barman-Adhikari, A., DeChants, J., Haffejee, B., Anyon, Y., Begun, S., Portillo, A., & Dunn, K. (2017). Asking for change: Feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a manualized photovoice intervention with youth experiencing homelessness. Children and Youth Services Review, 81, 379–389.Google Scholar
  7. Bender, K., Begun, S., Dunn, K., MacKay, E., & DeChants, J. (2018). Homeless youths’ interests in social action via photovoice. Journal of Community Practice, 26(1), 107–120.Google Scholar
  8. Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., Hamilton, S. F., & Sesma, A. (2006). Positive youth development: Theory, research, and applications. In R. M. Lerner & W. Damon (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 894–941). Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. 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 and Program Planning, 27, 443–451.Google Scholar
  10. Cammarota, J., & Fine, M. (Eds.). (2010). Revolutionizing education: Youth participatory action research in motion. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Cauce, A. M., Paradise, M., Ginzler, J. A., Embry, L., Morgan, C. J., Lohr, Y., & Theofelis, J. (2000). The characteristics and mental health of homeless adolescents: Age and gender differences. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(4), 230–239.Google Scholar
  12. Cheon, J. W. (2008). Convergence of a strengths perspective and youth development: Toward youth promotion practice. Advances in Social Work, 9(2), 176–190.Google Scholar
  13. Collins, P., & Barker, C. (2009). Psychological help-seeking in homeless adolescents. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 55(4), 372–384.Google Scholar
  14. Dadds, M. R., Braddock, D., Cuers, S., Elliott, A., & Kelly, A. (1993). Personal and family distress in homeless adolescents. Community Mental Health Journal, 29(5), 413–422.Google Scholar
  15. 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(3), 190–200.Google Scholar
  16. Dumont, M., & Provost, M. A. (1999). Resilience in adolescents: Protective role of social support, coping strategies, self-esteem, and social activities on experience of stress and depression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28(3), 343–363.Google Scholar
  17. Eccles, J., & Gootman, J. A. (Eds.). (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  18. Feldmann, J., & Middleman, A. B. (2003). Homeless adolescents: Common clinical concerns. Seminars in Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 14(1), 6–11.Google Scholar
  19. Ferguson, K. M., Kim, M. A., & McCoy, S. (2011). Enhancing empowerment and leadership among homeless youth in agency and community settings: A grounded theory approach. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 28(1), 1–22.Google Scholar
  20. Ferguson, K. M., Bender, K., Thompson, S. J., Maccio, E. M., & Pollio, D. (2012). Employment status and income generation among homeless young adults: Results from a five-city, mixed-methods study. Youth and Society, 44(3), 385–407.Google Scholar
  21. Fowler, P. J., Toro, P. A., & Miles, B. W. (2009). Pathways to and from homelessness and associated psychosocial outcomes among adolescents leaving the foster care system. American Journal of Public Health, 99(8), 1453–1458.Google Scholar
  22. Gavin, L. E., Catalano, R. F., David-Ferdon, C., Gloppen, K. M., & Markham, C. M. (2010). A review of positive youth development programs that promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(3), S75–S91.Google Scholar
  23. Gharabaghi, K., & Stuart, C. (2010). Voices from the periphery: Prospects and challenges for the homeless youth service sector. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1683–1689.Google Scholar
  24. Gomez, R. J., & Ryan, T. N. (2016). Speaking out: Youth led research as a methodology used with homeless youth. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33(2), 185–193.Google Scholar
  25. Greenblatt, M., & Robertson, M. J. (1993). Life-styles, adaptive strategies, and sexual behaviors of homeless adolescents. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 44(12), 1177–1180.Google Scholar
  26. Halcón, L. L., & Lifson, A. R. (2004). Prevalence and predictors of sexual risks among homeless youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33(1), 71–80.Google Scholar
  27. Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. J. (2002). Runaway/thrownaway children: National estimates and characteristics (NCJ 196469). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  28. Heinze, H. (2013). Beyond a bed: Support for positive development for youth residing in emergency shelters. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(2), 278–286.Google Scholar
  29. Heinze, H. J., & Hernandez Jozefowicz-Simbeni, D. M. (2009). Intervention for homeless and at-risk youth: Assessing youth and staff perspectives on service provision, satisfaction and quality. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 4(3), 210–225.Google Scholar
  30. Heinze, H., Hernandez Jozefowicz, D. M., & Toro, P. A. (2010). Taking the youth perspective: Assessment of program characteristics that promote positive development in homeless and at-risk youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 1365–1372.Google Scholar
  31. Hodgson, K. J., Shelton, K. H., van den Bree, M. B., & Los, F. J. (2013). Psychopathology in young people experiencing homelessness: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 103(6), 24–37.Google Scholar
  32. Hopper, E. K., Bassuk, E. L., & Olivet, J. (2010). Shelter from the storm: Trauma-informed care in homelessness services settings. The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 3(2), 80–100.Google Scholar
  33. Hudson, A. L., Nyamathi, A., Greengold, B., Slagle, A., Koniak-Griffin, D., Khalilifard, F., & Getzoff, D. (2010). Health-seeking challenges among homeless youth. Nursing Research, 59(3), 212.Google Scholar
  34. Jelicic, H., Bobek, D. L., Phelps, E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2007). Using positive youth development to predict contribution and risk behaviors in early adolescence: Findings from the first two waves of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31(3), 263–273.Google Scholar
  35. Jennings, L. B., Parra-Medina, D. M., Hilfinger-Messias, D. K., & McLoughlin, K. (2006). Toward a critical social theory of youth empowerment. Journal of Community Practice, 14(1–2), 31–55.Google Scholar
  36. Kidd, S. A. (2007). Youth homelessness and social stigma. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 291–299.Google Scholar
  37. Kolar, K., Erickson, P. G., & Stewart, D. (2012). Coping strategies of street-involved youth: Exploring contexts of resilience. Journal of Youth Studies, 15(6), 744–760.Google Scholar
  38. Larkin, M., Cierpial, C., Stack, J., Morrison, V., & Griffith, C. (2008). Empowerment theory in action: The wisdom of collaborative governance. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 13(2), 2–2.Google Scholar
  39. Leonard, N. R., Freeman, R., Ritchie, A. S., Gwadz, M. V., Tabac, L., Dickson, V. V., Cleland, C. M., Bolas, J., & Hirsh, M. (2017). “Coming from the place of walking with the youth—That feeds everything”: A mixed methods case study of a runaway and homeless youth organization. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 34(5), 443–459.Google Scholar
  40. Lindsey, E. W., Kurtz, D., Jarvis, S., Williams, B., & Nackerud, L. (2000). How runaway and homeless youth navigate troubled waters: Personal strengths and resources. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17(2), 115–140.Google Scholar
  41. MacLean, M. G., Embry, L. E., & Cauce, A. M. (1999). Homeless adolescents’ paths to separation from family: Comparison of family characteristics, psychological adjustment, and victimization. Journal of Community Psychology, 27(2), 179–187.Google Scholar
  42. McCay, E., Langley, J., Beanlands, H., Cooper, L., Mudachi, N., Harris, A., Blidner, R., Bach, K., Dart, C., Howes, C., & Miner, S. (2010). Mental health challenges and strengths of street-involved youth: The need for a multi-determined approach. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 42(3), 30–49.Google Scholar
  43. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Re-Authorized. (2002). 42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq 725.Google Scholar
  44. Medlow, S., Klineberg, E., & Steinbeck, K. (2014). The health diagnoses of homeless adolescents: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Adolescence, 37(5), 531–542.Google Scholar
  45. Ozer, E. J., & Douglas, L. (2015). Assessing the key processes of youth-led participatory research: Psychometric analysis and application of an observational rating scale. Youth and Society, 47(1), 29–50.Google Scholar
  46. Perron, J. L., Cleverley, K., & Kidd, S. A. (2014). Resilience, loneliness, and psychological distress among homeless youth. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 28(4), 226–229.Google Scholar
  47. Pollio, D. E., Thompson, S. J., Tobias, L., Reid, D., & Spitznagel, E. (2006). Longitudinal outcomes for youth receiving runaway/homeless shelter services. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 859–866.Google Scholar
  48. Rew, L., & Horner, S. D. (2003). Personal strengths of homeless adolescents living in a high-risk environment. Advanced Nursing Science, 26(2), 90–101.Google Scholar
  49. Rew, L., Taylor-Seehafer, M., Thomas, N. Y., & Yockey, R. D. (2001). Correlates of resilience in homeless adolescents. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 33(1), 33–40.Google Scholar
  50. Ringwalt, C. L., Greene, J. M., Robertson, M., & McPheeters, M. (1998). The prevalence of homelessness among adolescents in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 88(9), 1325–1329.Google Scholar
  51. Roebuck, B. S., & Roebuck, M. M. (2016). The strengths of young people who are homeless. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 35(2), 43–54.Google Scholar
  52. Rosenthal, D., Mallett, S., & Myers, P. (2006). Why do homeless young people leave home? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 30, 281–285.Google Scholar
  53. Slesnick, N., & Prestopnik, J. (2005). Dual and multiple diagnosis among substance using runaway youth. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 31(1), 179–201.Google Scholar
  54. Slesnick, N., Dashora, P., Letcher, A., Erdem, G., & Serovich, J. (2009). A review of services and interventions for runaway and homeless youth: Moving forward. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(7), 732–742.Google Scholar
  55. Stewart, A. J., Steiman, M., Cauce, A. M., Cochran, B. N., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (2004). Victimization and posttraumatic stress disorder among homeless 364 adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43, 325–331.Google Scholar
  56. Thompson, S. J., Safyer, A. W., & Pollio, D. E. (2001). Differences and predictors of family reunification among subgroups of runaway youths using shelter services. Social Work Research, 25(3), 163–172.Google Scholar
  57. Thompson, S. J., Ryan, T. N., Montgomery, K. L., Lippman, A. D. P., Bender, K., & Ferguson, K. (2016). Perceptions of resiliency and coping: Homeless young adults speak out. Youth and Society, 48(1), 58–76.Google Scholar
  58. Tyler, K., & Beal, M. R. (2010). The high-risk environment of homeless young adults: Consequences for physical and sexual victimization. Violence and Victims, 25, 101–115.Google Scholar
  59. Ungar, M. (2004). Nurturing hidden resilience in troubled youth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  60. Wang, C. C. (2006). Youth participation in photovoice as a strategy for community change. Journal of Community Practice, 14(1–2), 147–161.Google Scholar
  61. Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education and Behavior, 24(3), 369–387.Google Scholar
  62. Watson, J. (2011). Understanding survival sex: Young women, homelessness, and intimate relationships. Journal of Youth Studies, 14(6), 639–655.Google Scholar
  63. Watson, J., & Cuervo, H. (2017). Youth homelessness: A social justice approach. Journal of Sociology, 53(2), 461–475.Google Scholar
  64. Weikart, D. P. (2012) Youth program quality assessment. Center for Youth Program Quality. Accessed 27 July 2018.
  65. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Bao, W. N. (2000). Depressive symptoms and co-occurring depressive symptoms, substance abuse, and conduct problems among runaway and homeless adolescents. Child Development, 71(3), 721–732.Google Scholar
  66. Whitbeck, L. B., Johnson, K. D., Hoyt, D. R., & Cauce, A. M. (2004). Mental disorder and comorbidity among runaway and homeless adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(2), 132–140.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations