Home > Youth homelessness in Dublin: key findings from a six-year study.

Keane, Martin (2013) Youth homelessness in Dublin: key findings from a six-year study. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 47, Autumn 2013, pp. 26-27.

[img] PDF (Drugnet Ireland 47) - Published Version

Key findings from the only qualitative longitudinal study of youth homelessness undertaken in Ireland were published July 2013.1 The study covered a six-year period and included three phases of data collection with young people experiencing homelessness in Dublin. Two earlier publications reported on phase 1 and phase 2, 2 and were covered in past issues of Drugnet Ireland.3 This article summarises the profile and characteristics of the participants and describes some of the key findings  from the three phases, as reported in the latest publication.  

Phase 1: Baseline profile and characteristics (September 2004 – January 2005)
Forty young people, 23 males and 17 females, aged between 14 and 22 years, were interviewed at baseline. Their early childhood was characterised by poverty, traumatic life events and household conflict and instability. They reported deteriorating relationships with their parents during their early to mid-teenage years. Eighteen of the 23 young men left school at or before the age of 15; the young women remained longer in education, with 11 of the 17 attending school at baseline interview.
Twenty-five of the young people were living in under-18s emergency or short-term hostel accommodation, and most of the others were accommodated in other short- or medium-term accommodation; three were in prison and two were sleeping rough. Eleven reported being homeless for between two and four years, and eight for five years or more.
Those with longer homeless histories reported problematic and dependent patterns of alcohol and/or drug abuse, with half (13 males and 7 females) reporting use of heroin at some stage. ‘Drug use escalated for practically all young people as their “careers” in homelessness progressed and this pattern of consumption was especially apparent among those who moved constantly between hostels targeting the under-18s’ (p.22). 
Twenty of the young men and eight of the young women had been charged with at least one criminal offence. According to the authors, ‘their accounts demonstrate the interconnectedness of homeless, drug and criminal “careers”’. …However, few of the young people were heavily involved in drug use and even fewer had records of offending at the time they first left home’ (pp.22–23).
Becoming homeless
Almost half the 40 young people (9 males and 10 females) first experienced homelessness at age 14 or under, and 12 (9 males and 3 females) at age 15. Although most recalled their own unique account of becoming homelessness, the authors identified three broad, and overlapping pathways that characterised their entry into homelessness:
·         a history of state care;
·         family instability and family conflict;
·         problem behaviour and negative peer associations.
Sixteen of the young people had experience of the state care system, mainly through foster care, with many reported multiple placements leading to instability and disruption in their young lives. Although many experienced a traumatic childhood in the family home, this did not prevent them from carrying feelings of resentment about their separation from their parents and siblings.
For the majority of the young people, parental conflict and/or marital breakdown featured prominently in the events leading to their first homeless experience. Parental drug or alcohol abuse was reported by 16 and physical abuse by an adult in the home was experienced by 18 young people.
They also reported how their own behaviour, including using alcohol and drugs and staying out late with friends, often led to disagreement with their parents. Most of them admitted having been ‘rebellious’ in their early teens; however, for many the adverse circumstances of the family home contributed to their vulnerability. According to the authors,
Furthermore, by the time young people found themselves out of home for the first time, their experiences of a number of key institutions (including the family, school or State care) had been overwhelmingly negative. Consequently, at a relatively early age, a large number were living outside, or marginal to, the structures that play a critical role in preparing young people for the transition to adulthood. (p.24)
Phase 2: Homeless exits and continued homelessness (September 2005 – August 2006)
Thirty of the young people (16 males and 14 females) were re-interviewed at phase 2 of data collection. Seventeen (5 males and 12 females) had secured greater stability in their accommodation at this juncture, approximately 12–18 months since baseline. Seven were in transitional/supported housing, six were living at home, three were in foster or residential state care and one was in private rented accommodation. Thirteen (11 male and 2 female) remained homeless; five were in prison, four in adult hostels, two were sleeping rough, one was in a residential drug treatment programme and one was in temporary accommodation and awaiting sentencing in the criminal justice system. As these figures illustrate, a far greater number of female participants had exited homelessness by phase 2 of the study.
Phase 3: Sustained exits and prolonged homelessness (September 2009 – August 2010)
Twenty eight of the young people (15 males and 13 females) were re-interviewed at phase 3 of data collection. Fifteen (3 males and 12 females) had exited or sustained an exit from homelessness, of whom nine (including eight females) were living in the private rented sector, one male was in local authority housing, one female was living in an independent flat, one female was living in their partner’s home, one female was in a residential aftercare facility and one female and one male were in the family home. As the authors point out: ‘Consistent with the patterns identified at phase 2, far more females than males had exited or sustained an exit from homelessness. Gender therefore remains significant in the exiting patterns of young people…’ (p.25).
This study has generated an in-depth and rich understanding of young people’s routes into, through and out of homelessness. Its insights should provide food for thought for those charged with designing and implementing policy and practice to prevent youth homelessness. It is clear from the testimony of the participants that the key institutions of socialisation that we rely on to bring security, development and identity to our young people –  the family, the education system and the state care apparatus – can fail miserably at times. When these institutions fail and young people end up homeless and vulnerable, measures to disrupt this experience and facilitate their quick exit from homelessness are key to their regaining stability. In this regard, the successful work done to ensure the exit from homelessness of all but one of the young women  in this study has to be acknowledged. On the other hand, policy and practice also needs to acknowledge that it appears much harder for young men to exit homelessness and the longer they remain in this condition the more hazardous their lives become, i.e. criminal convictions and the more marginal they remain from society. 
1.   Mayock P and Corr ML (2013) Young people’s homeless and housing pathways: key findings from a 6-year qualitative longitudinal study. Dublin: Stationery Office. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20191.
2.   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. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/6200; and  Mayock P, Corr ML andO'Sullivan E (2008) Young people's homeless pathways. Dublin: Homeless Agency.www.drugsandalcohol.ie/4239.
3.   Keane M (2007) Research on youth homelessness in Dublin. Drugnet Ireland, (21): 21–22; and Keane M (2009) The process of youth homelessness. Drugnet Ireland, (29): 18.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Page Range
pp. 26-27
Health Research Board
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

Repository Staff Only: item control page