The Impact of Transitional Living Programs: Perspectives of Homeless Youth
thesisposted on 22.07.2017, 00:00 by Cathleen Holtschneider
Objective: Research in the area of youth homelessness has focused on identifying the characteristics and needs of the population, leaving a critical gap in our understanding of the usefulness of the current solutions being implemented. Transitional Living Programs (TLPs) are one of three core strategies executed by the federal government of the United States to address youth homelessness. The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of TLP services over time directly from the perspective of the youth who have participated in them. Method: In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 young people who exited a TLP between one and eleven years ago. Four primary research questions guided the investigation: (1) What are the experiences of youth after leaving TLPs? (2) What are youth perceptions of the impact, if any, of TLPs on their lives? (3) How do youth view the usefulness of specific services offered by the TLP? (4) What is the relationship between the meaning youth assign to their experience over time and the attainment of indicators of stability regularly used in the field. Results: Participants believed TLPs to be an essential part of our solution to youth homelessness; however, a substantial amount of incongruence was found between perception of the program’s effectiveness and lived experience of housing, education and employment stability over time. Instead, participants reported the lasting benefits of the program to be directly related to outcomes not currently prioritized in our service delivery system: immediate safety; enhanced systems of social support; and opportunities for personal development. Discussion: The results of this study offer detailed guidance for TLP providers regarding implementation of services, from building design to staff hiring practices. However they also provide compelling evidence that we need to reexamine our current funding and service delivery system for homeless youth in critical ways. The findings presented call into question generally accepted practices in areas such as: eligibility criteria, length of stay requirements and how we operationalize professional boundaries in the field. Additionally, they ask us to seriously examine the usefulness of tying funding to performance outcomes solely based on attainment of future stability.