One of the few studies examining methods to help homeless youth found that a comprehensive intervention program can indeed dramatically improve their life situation. The six-month study of homeless youth in Albuquerque found that teens who completed the program significantly reduced their substance abuse and depression and increased their social stability.
“Homeless youth are often seen as difficult to engage and difficult to treat,” said Natasha Slesnick, lead author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.
“But what this study shows is that we can be successful in helping a group that is often seen as unreachable. We can successfully reduce their alcohol and drug use, and improve their social stability and psychological functioning.”
The results are important, Slesnick said, because few previous studies have tried to determine how to best help homeless youth who are not with parents or other guardians. Up to 2 million youth are estimated to leave home prematurely each year, an estimate that is probably too low, she said.
Slesnick conducted the study with Jillian Prestopnik and Robert Meyers of the University of New Mexico and Michael Glassman, associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State . Their results appear online and will be published in a future issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors.
The researchers studied 180 youth aged 14 to 22 who used a drop-in center for homeless youth in Albuquerque between 2001 and 2005.
All the youth completed written inventories that probed drug use, social stability and depression. About half received “treatment as usual” and the other half were enrolled in a program called a “Community Reinforcement Approach.”
In the treatment as usual, youth who stopped by the drop-in center were offered food, a place to rest and the opportunity to meet with case managers who helped connect them with counseling and other services that they needed. This is the standard treatment for homeless youth around the country, Slesnick said.