Creating Cultural Exchange Between Homeless Youth and University Students

The purpose of this research was to develop a program that would link homeless youth and university students in a supportive relationship and that meets the needs of all key stakeholders. The key research question was: “What do key stakeholders want a program, which involves a supportive relationship between university students and homeless you, to look like?

Literature background: More research is needed to establishment intervention programs based on research to help young people who are living in the streets. These programs could include education, family interventions, relationship development, provision of safe and affordable housing, job skills training, and positive role modeling. It is important to plan interventions that would prevent youth from becoming completely integrated in the culture of the street by linking them with non-street peers and services. These linkages can promote pro-social behaviours and have the possibility to foster relationships that support, guide and protect as they navigate street life. Intervention strategies should also take into account that homeless youth are not a homogeneous group. The literature also calls for a focus on the homeless youths’ inner strengths. Concentrating on strengths, such as successfully living in a difficult street environment, and strong internal motivation for self improvement can help motivate homeless youth to change.

Population: Three groups of participants were purposively sampled: service providers at Cunningham Place, university students at the University of Alberta and homeless youth in Edmonton.
Methods: A grounded theory approach was used in this study. In depths interviews and focus groups were conducted to gather data.
Findings and discussion:
Shift from mentorship to cultural exchange: Data collected from service providers, students and homeless youth clearly indicated that a program shift was needed. The program should be mutual beneficial for both students and homeless youth. In designing the program the focus shifted from a program that provided mentorship to homeless youth to a cross-cultural exchange between the homeless youth and the university students. Cross-cultural experiences and exchanges can help individuals to come to the realization that they have the ability to make a difference, which can lead to an increased feeling of confidence and self-efficacy.
Creating cultural exchange: developing program goals: Data clearly indicated that the overarching goal of the program should be cultural exchange. Participants talked about making connections with people that they otherwise would not come into contact with and about expanding their knowledge about a different culture. Participants also saw the program as an opportunity for homeless youth and university students to learn from each other and to share their life experiences. Several sub-goals of the program were also identified: formation of trusting relationships; sharing of life experiences and gain of knowledge through understanding someone else’s life experiences; development of interpersonal and life skills specific to each program participants’ needs, interests and strengths; and trying new experiences. The importance of setting program goals was supported by the literature.
Program Structure, Focus: The participants felt that first and foremost the focus of the program should be on leisure. Leisure activities would help to promote bonding and facilitate the mixing between the groups. Although the participants agreed that leisure is important they also agreed that the activities in the program need to be meaningful and should encourage mutual learning. Literature on experiential learning supports the insight of respondents in that it suggests that important learning can take place through engaging in activities and reflecting on experiences.

Summary Credit:
Homelessness-Related Research Capacities in Alberta: A Comprehensive Environmental Scan, prepared by Dr. Katharina Kovacs Burns, MSc, MHSA, PhD and Dr. Solina Richter, PhD, RN for The Alberta Homelessness Research Consortium (2010)

Publication Date: 
127 – 141
Journal Name: 
The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
Edmonton, AB, Canada