Thursday, March 17, 2016

The best way to help homeless youth is hardly ever used

Public Release: 25-Jan-2016
The best way to help homeless youth is hardly ever used
Study finds drop-in centers embraced by those who fear, avoid shelters
Ohio State University

Teens without homes, many of whom have suffered at the hands of those entrusted with providing them care and kindness, often refuse to seek warmth and nourishment at shelters.

But there's new evidence that drop-in centers -- safe havens with fewer rules and no older adults -- could open doors to jobs, sobriety and housing that is safe and secure.

The study confirmed what lead researcher Natasha Slesnick has seen in two decades of work with homeless youths: Drop-in centers tailored to their needs and age have greater appeal for the hardest-to-reach kids.

Slesnick, professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, now has data to prove that they're particularly powerful hubs for moving young people away from homelessness and toward employment, housing and stability.

"Many kids won't go to shelters because they're hiding on the street. They're avoiding the service system because they've been abused and betrayed by everyone who is supposed to love them," said Slesnick, who is also founder and executive director of Ohio State's Star House, a drop-in center not far from campus that serves more than 800 young people a year.

"They're fearful of being preyed upon by older people at shelters, and the paperwork can be overwhelming."


The drop-in model isn't a replacement for shelters but an alternative that offers hope for the hardest-to-reach young homeless, Slesnick said.

"Every city needs a drop-in center," she said, adding that there are likely only about a couple dozen throughout the country.


Both groups saw improvements in measures including alcohol and drug use and depression. But the drop-in group saw greater improvements in several areas and had more contact with individuals and agencies that provide help. Three months after the start of the study, members of the drop-in group reported almost 15 contacts in the last month, compared with 10 contacts for the shelter group.

National estimates of the number of homeless young people vary widely, from 500,000 to 2 million. Part of that is because so many of them are disconnected from services that could help them and so getting a good count is impossible, Slesnick said.

Homeless young people are at high risk for victimization and suicide. They often have mental health problems and abuse drugs and alcohol. But they can have full, productive lives if given the right opportunities and assistance, Slesnick said.


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