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Emergency Youth Shelters: Agents of Positive Change

Emergency Youth Shelters: Agents of Positive Change
Hillary J. Heinze, University of Michigan Flint
This study examines positive development experiences within emergency youth shelters. Eighty-two youth residing at three shelters completed up to three surveys measuring developmental assets and psychosocial outcomes during their stay. Findings indicate immediate reductions in distress and increases in life satisfaction. Internal asset, health behavior, and female caregiver relationship scores increased significantly for youth completing Survey 3. Youth with fewer external resources outside of the shelter exhibited the greatest increases in internal asset scores. Findings suggest that brief shelter stays may improve mood and life outlook. Longer stays may facilitate change in more stable characteristics associated with reduced risk and increased thriving over time.

Background and Objectives

Youth homelessness is associated with increased risk for residential instability, family conflict, school difficulties, and other negative psychosocial outcomes (Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007). Accordingly, many of these youth have had limited opportunities for positive, strength-building experiences associated with healthy youth outcomes in traditional youth samples (Eccles & Gootman, 2002). Emergency shelters can serve as primary support services for these youth, providing needed resources and alleviating immediate crises. Additionally, relationships and experiences within the shelter may facilitate more lasting changes, such as building and strengthening social connections and personal attributes associated with successful transition into adulthood.

This research examines relationships among youth developmental assets and  social and psychological outcomes over the course of shelter stay. Eighty-two youth completed up to three surveys. It was predicted that youth would exhibit immediate reductions in mood; longer stays would be associated with changes in asset scores and other indicators of  positive development.

Findings suggest relationships and experiences within emergency shelters may provide opportunities for positive development, particularly for youth with few family, school or community supports. 

This study followed youth for approximately two weeks. Longer stays or  sustained program or staff contact may enhance development.

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Hillary J. Heinze, University of Michigan Flint

Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, Chicago, Illinois (2011, June). Supported by a University of Michigan-Flint Research and Creative Activities Grant. I would like to thank my research assistants and collaborators, agency youth and staff, Andre Louis, Marianne McGrath, and the UM-Flint Office of Research staff for their participation, advice and assistance at all points of this study.
Psychology Department
411 Murchie Science Building
Flint, MI 48502

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Keywords: emergency youth shelters, community psychology practice, scra biennial conference, gjcpp