PhD in Nursing Science Program

Laura C. Hein

Survival Among Male Homeless Adolescents


Dissertation under the direction of Professor Nancy L. Wells


The ecological perspective, which posits that the individual cannot be understood outside of context, was used to guide this research. The purpose of this comparative-descriptive study was to investigate survival among male homeless adolescents. Forty seven heterosexual and 23 gay, bisexual and transsexual (GBT) male homeless adolescents (16-20 years old) were compared on how they came to be homeless, residential stability, survival strategies, and psychological indicators (state and trait anxiety, self-esteem, and collective self-esteem). Standardized instruments were used to obtain data on psychological indicators; other variables were developed from structured interviews. Approximately equal numbers of youth became homeless due to their own volition, their parents choice, and due to a social service system problem, with a small percentage homeless due to tragedy - without variation by orientation. Over one-third of GBT youth became homeless due to their orientation, with the highest percentage among transsexual youth. Gay, bisexual and transsexual youth were younger, dropped out of High School more often, and were principally sofa-surfing, whereas heterosexual youth were principally staying in shelters. While some youth stayed in one place, there was no pattern to movement from one residence to another. Survival strategies included accessing homeless services, asking friends or family for money, drug work, gang activity, panhandling/dumpster diving, robbing/stealing, running scams, sex trade work (hustling and pimping) and working. Heterosexual youth were involved in more other-harmful survival activities than GBT youth. The sexual orientations did not differ significantly on psychosocial indicators. Differences were found between GBT orientations for residential stability, path to homelessness, and survival strategies. Overall 63% of youth said they were better off since leaving home. 70% of GBT youth felt they were better off since leaving home. The results indicate that there are some differences between heterosexual and GBT homeless adolescents that need further exploration. These data suggest that interventions for homeless adolescents may be tailored to sexual orientation to be most effective.