Throughout European Union (EU), solving the growing problem of homeless youth is presenting serious challenges for policy-makers at the national level and social workers at the local level. The main difficulty is: how can young men and women who are socially excluded be re-integrated into society?
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The aim of a EU-funded research project on homeless youth Combating Social Exclusion Among Young Homeless Populations – or CSEYHP – was to gain in-depth comparative knowledge on the social exclusion of homeless youth and those young people at risk of becoming homeless in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK.
CSEYHP researchers wanted to study homeless and socially excluded youth populations in different national contexts, introduce and investigate the use of various methods with NGOs that work with homeless youth, and to document the efforts of adults, peer mentors and family members to help socially excluded youth regain housing.
The researchers also developed the concepts of risk, social exclusion and shelter exclusion (both in theory and in practice).
The CSEYHP project coordinator was MOVISIE, a Dutch centre for social development. Thea Meinema, MOVISIE's senior consultant for international affairs, said their work on the project concluded in April 2011 when their findings were presented at a conference in Brussels.
"Based on the work of researchers in various countries, the conclusions and recommendations we formulated will be used in future European Union policies and in national policy," Meinema said. "It is a long-term involvement."
According to research findings, poverty alone did not account for the number of homeless youth and there are no easy answers in the search for a solution. Research participants identified early intervention in the form of skills training, conflict resolution assistance and employment opportunity as key in reducing the family stresses (abuse, mental illness, poverty) and threats that lead to young people feeling that they have no choice but to live on the streets. Meeting the immediate shelter needs of the homeless youth was identified as a front-line strategy to help support them as they address the problems they face.
Individual and relational factors played a major role, with the youth's unstable family situation, lack of adequate shelter, and psychological problems being the major contributors to homelessness.
To help gather data, CSEYHP researchers relied on the active participation of young homeless people as co-researchers.
"It was hard in some countries to find specific groups of young people to talk to," Meinema said. "Part of the work involved homeless youth as co-researchers who needed to be trained and kept involved in the project. They moved quite a lot and it was sometimes quite difficult to keep track of them. We depended on their involvement and their feeling of sharing in the project." She said that despite its limitations, the use of homeless youth as co-researchers had a positive effect on the findings of the study.
It would have been difficult for researchers to make such specific comparisons between the four countries because of the differences in national policies and the differences in funding opportunities, Meinema said, adding that it would not have been possible to do this kind of comprehensive project without EC funding.
The project's findings and reports (available to public at www.movisie.nl/homelessyouth) are part of a larger database within the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme, which is available to researchers, policy-makers and other interested stakeholders. This database ensures better visibility of scientific activity and resources in an easily accessed format on the Commission's website.
In addition to the Netherlands centre for social development, CSEYHP project partners included London Metropolitan University, the Centro de Investigação e Estudos De Sociologia in Lisbon, and Charles University in Prague. The EU contributed approximately € 770,000 to the study.