Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Homeless Youth in the United States: Recent Research Findings and Intervention Approaches. Risky Behaviors and Victimization


A number of studies have found not only that many homeless youth are sexually active, but also that they engage in sexual behaviors that put them at high risk for both sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy (Cauce et al., 1994; Kipke et al., 1995; Lombardo & Toro, 2004; Rotheram-Borus, 1991; Rotheram-Borus et al., 1992a, 1992b; Staller & Kirk, 1997; Toro & Goldstein, 2000; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999).

Homeless youth also report engaging in delinquent or illegal activities, including stealing, forcibly entering a residence, prostitution, and dealing drugs (Whitbeck, Hoyt, & Ackley, 1997). Youth who engage in these “deviant” behaviors often report that they do so to obtain money, food or shelter (Van Leeuwen, 2002; Van Leeuwen et al., 2005). In other words, these behaviors may be part of a survival strategy (Robertson & Toro, 1999).

Being on their own without adult supervision means not only that homeless youth are likely to behave in ways that are unsafe, but also that they comprise an especially vulnerable group. This is reflected in the high rates of physical and sexual victimization they report (Greenblatt & Robertson, 1993; Tyler et al., 2004). Research has found not only that homeless youth are far morelikely to be victimized than their peers who are housed (Stewart et al., 2004; Yates et al., 1988) but that many homeless youth are victimized repeatedly (Whitbeck, Hoyt, & Ackley, 1997).

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