Home > Research on youth homelessness in Dublin.

Keane, Martin (2007) Research on youth homelessness in Dublin. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 21, spring 2007, pp. 21-22.

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 Recent research by Mayock and Vekic (2006)1 presents data from the first phase of a two-phase longitudinal cohort study of young homeless people living in the Dublin metropolitan area. The research focused on young people living in Dublin for at least six months prior to the commencement of the study. The study used ‘life history’ interviews with 40 young people recruited through homeless services and street settings. In qualitative research when this method is used, interviewees are invited to tell their ‘life stories’, then the researcher invites them to explore in depth significant life events that are broadly related to the aims of the research. The aim of this technique is to uncover as far as possible the interviewees’ interpretations of significant life events and to allow them to elaborate on issues that may not have figured in the initial research aims but nonetheless are viewed as relevant to the research.


The interviews were conducted between September 2004 and February 2005. Fifty per cent of the cohort was aged between 15 and 17 years. Nineteen of the cohort reported becoming homeless initially at the age of 14 or younger, while 12 initially became homeless at age 15. This would suggest that the early to mid-teen years is a period of great risk for becoming homeless.


The research identified three broad pathways into homelessness for the study cohort. The authors caution against interpreting these pathways as ‘causes of homelessness’, suggesting that they be viewed rather as key circumstances and experiences that appeared to push the young people towards homelessness.


·       Household instability and family conflict of varying degrees figured largely in the experience of most of these young people from an early age. For example, parental discord and/or marital breakdown, the presence of a step-parent and parental alcohol and drug abuse figured prominently in the events leading to that initial experience of homelessness.


·       Forty per cent of the cohort reported a history of state care of varied duration, moving between foster homes, residential care placements or residential placement homes. Their accounts of these experiences suggest that they did not integrate and, according to the authors, this instability produced exceptional vulnerability and deep resentment about their separation from parents and/or siblings.


·       Negative peer association and problem behaviour were reported by some of the young people as contributing to poor relations with the family and caregivers. However, as the authors suggest, ‘[this] behaviour cannot be divorced from a range of other home based problems such as  family illness, bereavement, conflict between parents or alcohol abuse by a parent’ (p. 16).


At the time of interview, only eight of the cohort did not use illicit drugs, with the average age of first drug use being 11.5 years for the males and 13 years for the females. Fifty per cent of the cohort reported having used heroin, with almost all reporting their heroin use as problematic to the point of dependency. The majority of those who used heroin had first experimented with it after they became homeless.


The vast majority of the young people in this research had used or were using the Out Of Hours Service (OHS) in the city centre. This crisis service was set up to respond to the accommodation and care needs of homeless youth aged 18 or under. Young people can only access the service by going to a Garda station after 8pm. It is then the duty of the gardai to contact the OHS social work team who will determine where to place the young person in the emergency service if returning to the home is not an option. This means that these young people continue to move between city-centre hostels and become particularly vulnerable to exposure to alcohol and drug use, criminal activity and intimidation and bullying. According to the authors, ‘this initial period of contact with the city centre homeless “scene” was a common point of initiation into a whole range of risky behaviours and, within a relatively short period of time, a large number had become immersed in the street-based social networks’ (p. 22).


For example, when exposed to the experience of homelessness over an extended period, young people became heavily involved in using drugs and committing crime on a daily basis to finance their drug use. According to the authors, this led to a process of ‘acculturation’ into the street scene where they ‘learned the street competencies they need to survive by becoming embedded in social networks of homeless youths’   (p.  23). However, some of the cohort who managed to avoid the transient nature of hostel life and remained in the one place for an extended period of time were able to escape the street homeless scene, avoid drug use and attend school.


This study provides a useful sociological insight into the lived experiences of young homeless people. The findings of this first phase, although in strict interpretative terms limited to this cohort, require attention from the various state agencies charged with preventing homelessness.  Pillinger recommends this approach in the strategy on preventing homelessness. 2 Supported measures need to be put in place at local level, particularly in the Dublin suburbs, to prevent young homeless people congregating in the city centre and becoming involved in drug use and criminal behaviour. The advantages of a decentralised approach to homelessness in Dublin are that these young people are accommodated closer to their homes, can continue contact with their families, and can remain in school.


1.  Mayock P and Vekic K (2006) Understanding youth homelessness in Dublin city: key findings from the first phase of a longitudinal cohort study. Dublin: Stationery Office.  

2.  Pillinger J (2006) Preventing homelessness: a comprehensive preventative strategy to prevent homelessness in Dublin, 2005–2010. Dublin: Homeless Agency.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 21, spring 2007
January 2007
Page Range
pp. 21-22
Health Research Board
Issue 21, spring 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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