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Education plays a critical role in how adolescents mature into adults. A vulnerable, and often forgotten, sub-population of the poor is homeless youth, for whom lack of a stable or adequate residence creates a unique set of educational barriers. The Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA) spent 18 months documenting the experiences of homeless adolescents in Los Angeles, deriving data from 123 interviews with homeless adolescents between the ages of 14 and 19, and an additional 45 interviews with shelter staff, social workers, parents, teachers, and school district administrators. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 30 of the youth to understand their experiences in greater depth. Over 400 hours were dedicated to observing the daily lives of homeless youth. The project had two primary goals: (1) To give a voice to homeless youth who are frequently powerless and invisible; and (2) To initiate a dialog with policymakers and practitioners concerning the improvement of educational policy as it pertains to homeless youth. The following research questions framed the analysis: (1) What are the lives of homeless adolescents like? (2) How do homeless youth conceptualize themselves? (3) How do they spend their time? (4) How do they negotiate educational and social barriers? (5) How do they create support systems in and out of school? and (6) What are the different factors they prioritize as crucial to their development? The authors conclude that the current educational system is either irrelevant or hostile to the daily needs of homeless youth. Based on study findings, the authors suggest that policy conversation needs to turn towards addressing specific educational needs to prevent youth from being trapped in a cycle of homelessness. The creation of alternative educational opportunities, mentoring programs, and closer working relationships between shelters and schools warrants greater public discussion on federal, state, and local levels. (Contains 5 boxes and 1 table.) [This research was supported by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.]

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Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis


Los Angeles, CA

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homeless, McKinney-Vento, homelessness, homeless education, homeless college, unaccompanied youth, mobile


Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration | Social Work | Urban Education

Transition to adulthood for homeless adolescents