Young and Homeless in Nashville: The Scope of Runaway and Throwaway Youth and the Experiences of Homeless Youth
This study provides information on the number of youth in Nashville who experience homeless episodes and describes the experience of literally homeless youth in Nashville. The study included two data collection efforts: a survey of 2,169 randomly selected Metropolitan Nashville Public School (MNPS) youth in grades 9 through 12 and in-depth face-to-face interviews with 40 homeless youth who identified as either street youth or couchsurfers. Nearly 14% of Nashville public high school youth reported a runaway (6.3%) or throwaway (7.3%) episode in the past twelve months. Nearly 1 in 5 (19.6%) were either a runaway or a throwaway in their lifetime, and 20.5% had a homeless experience of some kind. Twelfth graders were significantly more likely than those in grades 9-11 to report a runaway/throwaway episode, and more likely to be kicked out than to run away. Homeless youth in Nashville appear to make use of available services. Formal shelter services were most used (70%) but also most avoided due to a negative experience. Youth reported using food services (53%); a local homeless youth outreach program (45%); local churches (43%); “safe spaces” (43%); mental health services (33%); educational assistance (28%); employment assistance (23%); and physical health services (15%). Reasons for avoiding services included negative experiences, a sense of independence, the location of services and transportation, not wanting to leave a partner to get services, and strict service requirements or rules. Couchsurfing youth tended to be less likely than street youth to utilize available services. Nashville youth have myriad strengths, including being optimistic, strong-willed, altruistic, smart, and friendly. They saw their youth as a factor that worked in their favor, relied on their relationships for strength, and called on their faith to help them through challenging situations they faced daily. According to these youth, assistance to a homeless person under the age of twenty-five would have a greater impact, because they tend to be more motivated to leave their situations than those who may be older or have been on the streets longer. Implications for practice, policy and research are discussed.