Youth experiencing homelessness (YEH) are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than their peers, and are more likely to face obstacles related to their developmental success as a result of the pandemic. We conducted a web-based survey to examine COVID-19-related changes in YEH’s ability to engage in activities necessary for their successful trajectory to adulthood. We utilized a YPAR model to cultivate the involvement of youth voice and leadership in the research process.
Undergraduate and graduate students with lived experience of homelessness or extensive experience serving unhoused communities, along with paid community interns with lived experiences were recruited and trained to design, administer and analyze the online survey. Crowdsourcing techniques were used to distribute the survey, including social media, outreach to community partners, distribution of flyers, and word of mouth. Survey items included youth’s experiences with COVID-19, including changes in access to basic needs, education, and wellness, exposure to the virus, ability to shelter in place, access to information, and vaccination status, and open-ended items for youth input. Eligible youth were 15-24 years of age, had experienced homelessness since March 2019, and had spent the prior night in SF or Alameda Counties. Respondents received a $10 gift certificate. The survey was available in English and in Spanish. The English survey was open from 6/30/21 to 7/17/21.
We report the results of the English language survey. 386 youth (mean age 21; 58.5% cisgender men, 35.5% cisgender women, 1.6% nonbinary/genderqueer, 0.5% transgender women, 3.9% other/unknown; 49.2% White, 32.1% Black/African American, 7.5% Latinx/Hispanic, 4.2% Asian/Pacific Islander, 3.1% American Indian/Alaska Native, 3.4% Mixed Race, 0.5% other; 82.4% heterosexual or straight, 8.5% gay/lesbian, 4.4% bisexual, 1.3% queer, 0.8% pansexual, 0.5% asexual, 0.3% questioning, 1.8% other/unknown) responded. 41.2% reported increased food insecurity and 22% reported decreased access to water during the pandemic. 76.2% reported their housing situation had changed, and 65.8% lost their income or reported a decreased income. Of respondents who were students in March 2019, 19.2% stopped their education for reasons other than graduation. 82.6% of participants were not able to shelter-in-place. 65% of participants found it difficult to find COVID-19 information they needed. 15.5% reported they were vaccinated. 15.9% of respondents lost a close contact to COVID-19. When asked about their greatest strengths during the pandemic, many youth cited relationships with family and friends, as well as hope for the future: “There’s so much I want to do. I don’t want to die.”
In order to protect youth wellbeing and their trajectory to adulthood, as well as to benefit public health, resources are needed to provide youth with basic needs, support them given their losses, and protect them from infection.
Sources of Support
The UCLA Life Course Intervention Network, and the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.
© 2022 Published by Elsevier Inc.