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Keane, Martin (2009) The process of youth homelessness. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 29, Spring 2009 , p. 18.

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A report on Phase II of a qualitative longitudinal study on homelessness among young people in Dublin city was published in 2008.1 The research adopted a pathways approach that aimed to generate in-depth understanding of the process of youth homelessness, with particular focus on movement into, through and out of homelessness. 

Research methods
Phase II data were collected between September 2005 and August 2006. Information was successfully obtained about the living situations of 37 of the 40 young people (23 males and 17 females) recruited in Phase 1,2 and follow-up interviews were conducted with 30 (16 males and 14 females). The life history interview was the main method of data collection and young people were asked to ‘update’ their life history narrative by detailing significant events since the time of their initial interview.
In analysing the narratives of the 30 young people re-interviewed at Phase II, the researchers were able to categorise three pathways:
·       Independent exits from homelessness
·       Dependent exits from homelessness
·       Continued homelessness
Independent exits
Six of the young people had moved home and one had moved to private rented accommodation. Those who had continued contact with and support from their families throughout the homeless experience made a smoother transition home and were more likely to view their move home in positive terms. Among those for whom drug use was an issue, continued family and parental support was almost always contingent on the young person seeking drug treatment and quitting use. This often involved breaking ties with past friends and associates within both street and drug scenes and establishing new social networks.
Dependent exits
Ten of the young people had either moved to transitional/supported housing (n=7) or to a residential care setting (n=3). They were helped to make this move by support from family members and professional sources, and by participation in education or training. For those who reported drug problems, seeking treatment was a critical enabler in the transition to supported housing. Most felt that it was important to distance themselves from former peer networks and attempted to establish and maintain positive and enabling social relationships. Some experienced financial difficulties as well as problems with everyday household chores and responsibilities. A number reported feelings of loneliness and depression.
Continued homelessness
Thirteen of the young people (11 males and two females) remained homeless, that is, they continued to access emergency hostel accommodation, sleep rough or live in other temporary or unstable living situations. Nine were aged 19 years or under. Most had left school early, reported short-lived attempts at a return to education/training, had limited participation in the labour market and weak family ties. All had a history of drug misuse and two also reported heavy alcohol use; nine reported heroin use.
Housing instability had a discernible impact on these young people’s drug-using behaviour. Moving between temporary living places brought them into contact with other drug users and also cultivated an acceptance of ‘hard’ drug use. Their entry to adult hostels was a point of particular vulnerability due, in large part, to the sense of despair many experienced at this juncture. Escalating drug consumption impacted on their physical and mental health, and negatively influenced their ability to maintain meaningful ties with society. A number had tried to address the matter of their drug consumption and several had sought treatment at some time.
Young people’s efforts to address their substance use were constantly hampered by the absence of a stable place to live, rendering abstinence a constant struggle, as described by Eoin (22):
I’ve been going round in circles for a long time probably since back then [time of initial interview] but it’s just hard. Like, I was doing well for a while, I’d be doing well for a few weeks but then something would happen. I get setbacks, you know. Having nowhere to stay is the main thing. Staying here, I’m trying to get clean urine but as you know it’s, this hostel is for people who’s on drugs and I’m sharing a room with a fella and like… I’m trying to stay away from everything and he’s doing it in me face. It’s just there in me face. It’s just so, it’s just so hard. (p. 131)
This research shows that there are pathways out of homelessness for young people whose contact with their families has remained strong; they receive support in accessing treatment for their substance use and in making the transition to supported living conditions. The research also shows that there are young people who remain trapped in homelessness and substance use. They tend to have weak ties with family, poor education skills and problems related to drug and alcohol use. Despite many making efforts to ‘get clean’ their experience of housing instability and exposure to adult hostels and the street drug scene can place them at an elevated risk of escalating their use of substance and their experience of homelessness.
1. Mayock P, Corr ML and O’Sullivan E (2008) Young people’s homeless pathways. Dublin: Homeless Agency.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 29, Spring 2009
Page Range
p. 18
Health Research Board
Issue 29, Spring 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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