New Study on Homeless Young People by TCD Researchers

Posted on: 23 November 2007

A new study of homeless young people in Dublin city which documents  the journey into homelessness of  40 young people between the ages of 12 and 22 years¹ was  launched on November 22nd last in Trinity College Dublin. The study Lives in Crisis: Homeless Young People was co-written by Dr Paula Mayock, lecturer in Youth Research at TCD’s School of Social Work and Social Policy and the Children’s Research Centre and Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, also a lecturer in the School of Social Work and Social Policy.

The study provides a detailed overview of the prevalence of youth homelessness in Ireland and outlines the services and interventions designed to meet the needs of homeless youth.  It deals with the  experience of being homeless; the challenge of surviving  on the street; relationships and friendships; drug use and criminal activity; experiences of bullying, violence and victimisation; health and health-related behaviour; help-seeking and coping strategies; and service use and service utilisation.

According to Dr. Paula Mayock, “there is evidence to suggest that at least some of the interventions designed to meet the needs of homeless youth may have inadvertently facilitated their descent into a ‘subculture’ of homelessness. The lack of provision for 18-25 year olds is a particular problem. The sudden withdrawal of statutory services from young people when they reach the age of 18 leaves many in an extremely vulnerable situation and can serve to further entrench them in homelessness”.

The study found that young people did not suddenly become homeless, instead, the process could be traced to a childhood characterised by traumatic life events due to parental illness or death, family conflict, parental drug or alcohol misuse and/or experiences of violence or abuse. The majority of the study’s young people grew up in poor neighbourhoods and many accounts of childhood memories referenced scenes of hardship related to household instability, poverty and difficult life events.

The study identified three broad pathways to homelessness:

1. State Care history
Sixteen of the 40 young people (40%) had a history of State care – foster care, residential care placements, or in some cases a residential setting for young offenders.

2. Household instability and family conflict
A considerable number of young people reported a succession of moves from various housing locations and living situations as children, suggesting that they experienced a high level of family instability. Parental discord and/or marital breakdown featured strongly in the events leading to their first homeless experiences, as did conflict arising from the presence of a step-parent. Parental alcohol and drug abuse was also reported by a large number of young people. Physical violence was reported.

3.Negative peer associations and problem behaviour
Nine of the study’s young people reported a pattern of behaviour that led to persistent disagreement and conflict with their parent(s) or caregivers during their early to mid-teenage years. This behaviour included drinking, drug-taking, breaking household rules, staying out late, getting into trouble at school and socialising with peers who were known ‘troublemakers’.

Health and Risk
Regarding health problems, the report found that homeless young people over 17 extremely vulnerable to ill health including asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, poor nutrition as well as acquired injuries such as broken bones.  They also experience poor psychological/emotional health. Levels of drug use were extremely high across the study’s sample of young people and half were heroin involved.   Few, however, had initiated use prior to their  ‘out of home’ experience.

Young People’s Accounts of Homelessness:

Brendan aged 17 describes his homelessness and inability to emerge from it:

“I just got it now this year, I got the sense of it that I’m deep in it now.”
Paul aged 19 describes how coming into Dublin city-centre and the services he accessed there served to further diminish his stake in mainstream society:

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t come into town. I know I wouldn’t. Out there (home neighbourhood) like, I probably could have something like a robbed car charge, but I wouldn’t have you know, the serious bad charges I have now. I wouldn’t say so any way. Just in town, it’s much different, it’s totally different than the suburbs. When you come into the city, like it’s much different”.

Christian aged 17 describes the emergence of a life of crime – linked directly to hostel and street life:
“It’s a life of fucking crime, that’s it. It’s like a big circle being in the hostel. I’ve been in them years, you know what I mean… Because if you’re homeless right, you’re kicked out at half-nine in the morning and you can’t go in ’till eight o’clock. So you’ve that whole day to waste, do you know what I mean. And how are you meant to be in school as well? It’s very hard to be in education because like, by the time you go in at eight they see you, you know what I mean, you get placed, they bring you off somewhere, you  stay there for the night, you wake up. It’s very hard to get to get up in the morning and go to FÁS and all … And, you know in (the hostel) you’d wake up with six people there, you know what I mean. And they say, ‘I’m going off robbing’ and ‘Where are you going?’ And you’re automatically sucked in to the robbing business”.

James aged 18 describes the bullying, violence and victimisation being homeless.

“I got smashed up in there (in a squat) by five blokes with bars. Cuts all over me head an’ all after them beating me up in there. That’s why I wouldn’t stay there anymore”.

Siobhán aged 22 describes here extreme ill-health:
“I had kidney infections an’ all I’ve hepatitis C, like you know, so…. That’s hard in the cold as well like. The cold affects your liver an’all you know like. I used to be in bits waking up in the mornings. I couldn’t even talk or anything you know. I used to be in bits waking up, be soaking you know. If it was raining”.

The new study was launched by Sylda Langford, Director General, of the Office of the Minister for Children.

Notes to the editor
1.  For the purpose of the survey – 23 young me and 17 young women were interviewed.

Lives in Crisis: Homeless Young People in Dublin   is published by The Liffey Press.
The Office of the Minister for Children funded the research on which the book is based.