Addressing Homelessness Lie

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Among the many challenges in addressing homelessness lies in how the condition encompasses multiple other social ills. There is an exponential reality to it, in that the state is influenced by, and influences, extreme situations of mental illness, criminality, and substance abuse. These connections are all the move evident when a specific homeless population is examined, as in 2016’s meta-analysis, “Homeless youth, strain, and justice system involvement: An application of general strain theory.” As the title indicates, the article focuses on applying the theory to the subject, and successfully. There are issues as to content and recommendations, as will be discussed. The article captures the inescapable fact that homelessness inevitably involves substance abuse among other deviant behaviors, and essentially because the state of homelessness creates a vulnerability promoting impulse to “escape” and a general, and fully explicable, disregard for systems unwilling to accommodate the population. At the same time, it fails to adequately address substance abuse, and other ills, as the causes of youth homelessness rendering that state a symptom, and not a cause in itself.


To begin with, and the focus on youth notwithstanding, the authors credibly and deeply present the multiplicity inherent in homelessness, and before they call General Strain Theory (GST) into play. The population is defined as individuals between sixteen and twenty-four years of age; on the streets as runaways, “thrownaways,” or rejected by parents or other relations; and all with no stable shelter for an extended period of time. Turning to multiple resources, no reasonable estimate of this population is known, as numbers vary between tens of thousands to millions. Additionally, and importantly emphasizing the exponential reality of homelessness in general, it is understood that the majority of young people who leave home do so because of various forms and levels of abuse. This as relevant to substance abuse becomes more evident when, as is noted, it is recognized that homeless youth with some history of foster care are nine times as likely to have abused substances, and/or been in treatment for abusing drugs and alcohol (Snyder et al, 2016, pp. 90-91). The primary purpose of supporting GST as linked to youth homelessness is then already evident; the foster care system, providing temporary shelter while subjecting the youth to varying authority figures and no real stability, appears to encourage the escapism offered by substances, or motivate the youth to use substances as an expression of defiance. The same cause-and-effect principle likely exists in terms of other criminality as well.

Then, and effectively, the authors tie together homeless youth and substance abuse, as well as other deviant behaviors, with the GST construct. Citing recent and highly credible research, they assert that strain, as an ongoing and severe psychological effect, weakens the individual’s sense of identity and encourages self-destructive conduct through a process of coping: “The experience of strain tends to generate negative emotions, including anger, resentment, and depression” (Snyder et al, 2016, p. 92), and the youths, lacking judgment by virtue of age as well, are all the more susceptible to engaging in negative behaviors. Emphasized in the analysis as well is how the population is typically high-risk in other ways. For example, many homeless young people are rejected by the households unwilling to accept their LGBT identities, and this exacerbates the psychological vulnerability. Similarly, children from physically abusive homes are also as prone to turn to drug and criminality because, as GST clarifies, the victimization translates to intense and unrelenting trauma as strain (Snyder et al, 2016, p. 93). The authors then move on to propose remedial efforts based on existing policies such as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1977 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. At the same time, the article notes the limitations of these policies, as in their emphasis on housing (Snyder et al, 2016, p. 94). Ultimately, the article then provides a rational application of GST to the problem, as well as identifying both services in place and weaknesses in the services. This leads the authors to conclude that, for the substance abuse and other problems associated with homeless youth, greater training and understanding is required, in terms of the totality of the issues within the state of homelessness.

Ironically, the strengths of the article pertain to its weaknesses. On one level, and commendably, the application of GST reinforces how youth homelessness is so innately an exponential reality, in which a range of negative experiences lead to, or perpetuate, the homeless experience. In plain terms, substance abuse is virtually assured under such circumstances. Similarly, the authors understand the complexity of the problem, and add, simply: “Policies are needed to address each strain” (Snyder et al, 2016, p. 95). On another level, however, the article is unable to directly address the situation it presents; namely, that homelessness is a symptom, just as substance abuse and crime are extensions of that symptom. They authors comprehend the weakness in the policies focusing on housing, yet fail to express, in theory or in practical address, how the victimization behind youth homelessness is the primary problem.


The article discussed has much to recommend it, particularly in the rational application of GST to the problem of youth homelessness. Correctly, the emphasis is on the many abuses suffered by young people leading to homelessness, as well as substance abuse and other deviant behaviors. What is missing, however, is the broader awareness needed to combat the exponential issue in its entirety. While well-researched and helpful, the meta-analysis still neglects the reality that youth homelessness, as the article ironically indicates, is more a symptom of victimization than a cause, just as substance abuse is likely generated by the underlying victimization.

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Addressing Homelessness Lie. (2019, May 29). Retrieved from

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