"You can't count on nobody in life": Homeless youth and the transition to adulthood

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Purpose - There are many unknowns about the obstacles as well as the resilient characteristics that vulnerable youth possess as they engage in the transition to adulthood. This chapter seeks to address some of these unknowns. Methodology/approach - This chapter is based on qualitative interviews with 60 youths residing in a homeless shelter and follow-up interviews with 39 of these youths after they left the shelter. Findings - This chapter presents the difficult life histories of these youths and how these histories affect their ability to successfully transition into adulthood. Youths reported elevated levels of instability, most often due to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as parental drug abuse, poverty, and transience. From these experiences, youths learned to rely only on themselves for support and believe resiliently in their own ability to achieve their goals. However, when located after they had left the shelter, many were still struggling mightily to achieve these goals. Post shelter, the most stable group of participants was women with children and many young mothers spoke evocatively about the support and motivation given to them by their children. Research limitations/implication - This chapter is limited by its small, nonrandom sample. Future research on the transition to adulthood would benefit from analyzing the transition for youths with diverse backgrounds and experiences.Originality/value of paper - The sample population and the use of qualitative, longitudinal data make this paper an important contribution to the broader transition to adulthood literature as well as the growing sociological literature on homeless youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-130
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Studies of Children and Youth
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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