Routes to Homes: A Transit and Social Support Intervention for Homeless Youth

Background: Homeless youth face significant barriers in the public transportation system that can limit access to safe and supportive places putting them at risk (Carlson et al., 2006). These barriers can include lack of transit tickets and/or passes, accumulated transit fines, and court orders barring individuals from certain sites in the transit system. Community-based research undertaken in Edmonton revealed that high risk youth depend upon Light Rail Transit and bus service to find safe places in the city (Old Strathcona Mapping and Planning Committee, 2012). This study also confirmed that many youth have their first criminal encounter with Transit Peace Officers and Fare Checkers as the youth seek services, employment, and relief from cold in winter. To date, past research has focused on assessments of the risks of youth homelessness and the needs of homeless youth. Intervention research evaluating effectiveness of service structures in reducing transportation barriers has been recommended (Kidd, 2012).

Objective: The aim of this pilot intervention study was to explore how a transit-focused support intervention might help to alleviate transportation barriers among homeless youth and promote social inclusion.

Research Questions:

  1. What is the impact of public transportation assistance (i.e., bus tickets; bus passes) and a pilot social skills training–support intervention with homeless youth in terms of: (a) interactions with transit authorities, (b) personal safety (c) social exclusion, and (e) access to social support, supportive services, and housing?
  2. What are the implications for improved practice, programs, and policies?

Methods: without regular and adequate housing were recruited through four Edmonton agencies serving homeless youth. They were randomly assigned to receive either: 1) a monthly bus pass (n=20) or 2) bi-weekly bus tickets (n=20) for 3 months (January - March). Pre- and post-intervention, participating youth: completed a demographic questionnaire (age, sex, education, cultural background); responded to questions on previous housing and services, and involvement with transit and city police; and, completed a short exploratory survey of perceived support (2 questions), support seeking (6 questions), community belonging (4 questions), and safety (3 questions).

Results: The impact of receiving public transit tickets was overwhelmingly positive for these youth. This pilot intervention reduced negative interactions with transit authorities, made them “feel normal”, increased safety in some situations, and enabled them to access services and supports beyond their normal walking range. During the three-month intervention, there was an increase in employment and stable housing for youth.​

Plain Language Summary

Publication Date: 
Alberta, Canada