Youth Homelessness: A Case of Family Disconnection

(This paper is a literature review on youth homelessness and coursework in a Sociology course that discusses different perspectives on homelessness.)

Introduction

This research essay will explore the family, its function as the basic social unit, and its role in youth homelessness through the lens of socialization (immediate social environment), family conflict, and social interaction. Socialization is a process through which people are taught to be productive members of society. So, the family as the primary agent teaches the foundation of societal norms, beliefs, and values. In my study, family conflict refers to the acts and behaviours that lead to family dysfunction. In this study, social interaction refers to the reflections of those behaviours outside family interactions. I am interested in exploring the family from which every youth entrenched their first social membership. Specifically, I want to know the connection between homelessness and relationships within the family.

Frail values and troubled relationships in the family force the youths to risk the destructive influence of society. Thus, in family conflicts, the parent/s-child relationship is at risk, pushing the child out of their home. Accordingly, the community sees them as deviance and a government burden as the media portray them, creating the term ‘homeless youths’ as a social construct. Notwithstanding, most researches focus on men and adult homeless persons and the consequences of homelessness in society to find efficient solutions. It has to be noted that the youths, ages thirteen to twenty-five, are the primary subject or focus of the investigation, using the qualitative method.

Literature Review

More often than not, many scholars consider homelessness as the absence of a place to live and a public health issue. Thus, the literature sources are from publications or journals from psychology, children and youth studies, public health, medicine, and crime and social justice. At least, in my search of related literature, no single sociological study I found. Hence, sociological researches are equally crucial to have a more holistic approach and perspective in dealing with this growing social phenomenon. The following paragraphs describe the common themes or typology that emerge from the selected scholarly articles.

Abusive and Unsafe Environment. One of the common reasons for youth homelessness is family problems or conflicts (Mallett, et al., 2005; Heinze, et al., 2012; Spurr, 2018), not simple problems but intolerable ones.  Family-related issues such as drug use of one family member and living with problematic parent/s or step-parent or non-biological parent make a child challenging to live. Different forms of abuse, such as physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, and sexual (Spurr, 2018; Mabhala, et al., 2017; Mallett, et al., 2005; Cameron, et al., 2004) create an abusive and unsafe environment for the youths to stay. This harsh and hazardous environment also entails violence. Adverse childhood experiences, substance or alcohol abuse and trauma trigger the youth’s rebellious behaviour and eventually make them leave home, or the parent may tell them to go. Children become homeless by leaving an abusive situation and taking the risks of leaving home.

House Eviction. This term, house eviction is associated with the different words coming from the participants, such as ‘thrown-out,’ ‘kicked-out,’ or ‘told to leave’ by their parents (Heinze, et al., 2012; Spurr, 2018; O’Grady, et al., 2020), and categorized those respondents as ‘runaways’ (Heinze, et al., 2012) or ‘throwaways’ (Cameron, et al., 2004; Heinze, et al., 2012). While some of them are victims of violence, others got involves in crimes. Several other reasons for the expulsion from the family are but are not limited to disrespect, rebellious behaviours, substance and alcohol abuse, and pregnancy, among other individual differences that also make homeless youths deviant. Moreso, longstanding parent-child conflict such as domestic issues like house cleanliness, telephone bills, lengthy time in the shower, and not paying board deepened by communication problems (Mallett, et al., 2005) are reasons for their eviction from the house. Given those conflicts, participant-youths ended up on the street, in shelter houses, in respite centres, or even in friend’s home. This category reflects power and authority between parents and their offspring, illustrating parents’ dominance over their children in the household.

Deviant Behaviours. Mallett, et al. (2005) emphasize that youths’ rebellious activitiesare ways of ignoring their parents to assert their desire for freedom and independence. However, homeless youths’ strange behaviours exacerbate outside their home of origin through crime involvement such as shoplifting, stealing or robbery and other violent crimes to support their needs (Martijn & Sharpe, 2005). These aberrant behaviours include trouble with authorities or contact with the police, drugs and alcohol abuse, and other maladaptive behaviours (Cameron, et al., 2004; Mallett, et al., 2005; Mabhala, et al., 2017; Spurr, 2018), creating social stigma reinforce by media reporting. Cameron et al. also claims that those problems, including depression and suicidality, are youths’ potential health risks toward possible mental illness.

Childhood Adversaries and Family Breakdown. Adverse or traumatic childhood experiences such as molestation or incest, family breakdown, parents’ separation or divorce, and family violence or abuses are homelessness factors for youths, which are also reasons for their depression that affect mental health without professional or institutional interventions. This thematic concept embraces neglectful upbringing issues, for instance, living with relatives or friends, lack of time for them coupled with custody concerns, or living with abusive step-parent (Martijn & Sharpe, 2005; Mabhala, et al., 2017; Spurr, 2018). Those previous problems, such as ‘disrupted family life and relationship breakdown’ (Neale & Brown, 2015), usually happened at a very young age. In their teenage years, their ‘desire for freedom and independence’ (Mallett, et al., 2005) materializes when they leave home, aware of a riskier world outside, including public stigmatization and rejection.

Parental Negligence, Avoidance, and Rejection. Deprivation of the basic needs and proper moral or emotional support for children is a simple act of parents’ negligence, avoidance of responsibilities, and rejection, a deliberate abandonment. Instances such as parents’ unavailability to help, the expectation of being on their own, lack of family support (Heinze, et al., 2012), and throwing, kicking, or telling to leave by parents (Cameron, et al., 2004; Heinze, et al., 2012; Spurs, 2018; O’Grady, et al., 2020) imply and describe the above youths’ reasons for their homeless condition. These cases are strong indicators of stretching the parent-child relationship gap that signifies broken family relationships and connections, ‘losing a significant person in [their] life’ (Mabhala, et al., 2017).

Conclusion

The literature gives us a clear connotation of home from the youth participants’ perspective, validating its subjective sense of meaning. In their view, a home is a safe and comfortable place to live that gives a feeling of belongingness. Therefore, if they feel unsafe, troubled, and unwelcomed, they leave home to find that sense of belonging somewhere else. Homeless youths find companies or build friend networks as an alternative to belongingness to fulfill their needs. Such friendships are culturally normative based on supporting each other, spending time together and sharing values such as trust, honesty, and reliability (Neale &Brown, 2015). This kind of alternative in some way meets the lost family relationship.

The compounded themes in the literature, such as abusive and unsafe environment, house eviction, deviant behaviours, child adversaries and family breakdown, and parental negligence, avoidance and rejection, are consequences of broken connections and relationships within the family. In a study, Mabhala, et al. (2017) describes the complete collapse of relationships with whom they live, the final phase of becoming homeless. Mallet et al. recognize that all homelessness pathways imply family conflict, if not family failure or breakdown. They also conclude that the desire for independence, focus on individualization, and the family’s significant changes toward post-modern family life convey conflicts or risks in the family relationships. Thus, it is an indication that the family can not get along with the dangers and the reflexivity of modernity. It is now a great challenge for the family to restore its healthy relationship through primary socialization. Good values are instilled for our youths to become productive citizens as they interact in the greater society.

Finally, I argue that the importance of a healthy family (parent/s-child) relationship is the barrier to the growing cases or proliferation of youth homelessness. Given those findings, I suggest that sociological exploration on the deep-rooted cause or causes of youth homelessness as the basis for crafting more efficient mechanisms and effective interventions at the institutional level and mitigate its social effect. This study also gives future researchers an opportunity to explore the changing nature of family life in the post-modern era and the impact of increasing focus on individualization in our contemporary time. The conduct of investigation regarding youth homelessness in homeless youths’ parents’ perspectives is a unique area of research.

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References

Cameron, Kelly N., Yvonne Racine, David R. Offord, and John Cairney. 2004. “Youth at Risk of Homelessness in an Affluent Toronto Suburb.” Canadian Journal of Public Health. 95(5):352–56. DOI: 10.1007/BF03405145.

Heinze, Hillary J., Debra M. Hernandez Jozefowicz, Paul A. Toro, and Logan R. Blue. 2012. “Reasons for Homelessness: An Empirical Typology.” Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies 7(1):88–101. doi: 10.1080/17450128.2011.643832.

Mabhala, Mzwandile A., Asmait Yohannes, and Mariska Griffith. 2017. “Social Conditions of Becoming Homelessness: Qualitative Analysis of Life Stories of Homeless Peoples.” International Journal for Equity in Health 16(1):150–150. DOI: 10.1186/s12939-017-0646-3.

Mallett, Shelley, Doreen Rosenthal, and Deborah Keys. 2005. “Young People, Drug Use and Family Conflict: Pathways into Homelessness.” Journal of Adolescence (London, England.) 28(2):185–99. DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2005.02.002.

Martijn, Claudine, and Louise Sharpe. 2006. “Pathways to Youth Homelessness.” Social Science & Medicine (1982) 62(1):1–12. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.007.

Neale, Joanne and Caral Brown. 2016. “‘We Are Always in Some Form of Contact’: Friendships Among Homeless Drug and Alcohol Users Living in Hostels.” Health & Social Care in the Community 24(5):557–66. DOI: 10.1111/hsc.12215.

O’Grady, Bill, Sean Kidd, and Stephen Gaetz. 2020. “Youth Homelessness and Self Identity: a View from Canada.” Journal of Youth Studies 23(4):499–510. doi: 10.1080/13676261.2019.1621997.

Spurr, Ben. 2018. “Five Homeless Youth Share Their Stories.” Toronto Star. Retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/10/19/five-homeless-youth-share-their-stories.html

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