Unpacking the Discourse on Youth Pathways into and out of Homelessness: Implications for Research Scholarship and Policy Interventions

Youth homelessness presents a complex and persistent challenge worldwide, particularly affecting young adults between 16 and 24 years of age in the US and Canada. This population faces elevated risks of exploitation, victimization, and various health issues upon detachment from familial support structures. Understanding the multi-faceted nature of youth homelessness requires the consideration of individual, structural, and systemic factors within the socio-ecological model.

Historically, when examining youth homelessness, traditional methods have concentrated either on individual factors contributing to homelessness or on broader structural issues within society. The emergence of the new orthodoxy attempted to bridge the apparent gap between individual- and structural-level factors by considering both to be equally significant, but it faced skepticism for its theoretical framework. In response, the “pathways” approach gained traction, emphasizing the subjective experiences and agency of youth experiencing homelessness. Departing from conventional epidemiological models, the pathways approach views homelessness as a dynamic process intertwined with individual life contexts.

This paper navigates the scholarly discourse on youth homelessness and examines the distinct characteristics of the pathways approach. By exploring its implications for research and policy, this study contributes to a nuanced understanding of youth homelessness and informs future prevention-focused interventions.

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