Examining Young People’s Experiences of Homelessness

Examining Young People’s Experiences of Homelessness


Home is a very rich concept. It embodies ideas of comfort, belonging, identity, security and many others. According to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements(2000, pp. 15-16), home is defined as a dwelling wherean individual is able to found meaningful and evocative social relations with other peopleby way of entertaining them in one’s own space, or where an individualhas the option of not associating with others if that choice is made.

Homelessness is a sensitive term thatinvokes in thepublic’s minds imagesof avagrant tottering the street, smelly, hungry and dirty, or the intoxicated, detestable, loud and drunk.There is no clear-cut consensus on the definition of homelessness in the literature. However, various scholars have defined it in equally different ways. According to Caplow (1973) as stated by Ravenhill(2012, pp. 5-6) “homelessness is a condition of detachment from society characterized by the absence or attenuation of the affiliative bonds that link settled persons to a network of interconnected social structures.” Bhugra(2007, p. 27)states that for homelessness to be present, the absence of physical residence must occur under conditions of social isolation or dissatisfaction. Homeless people are a transient population;who move in and out of various forms of accommodation and spend time on the streets.A more exhaustive definition is provided by the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. According to the federal government as stated in the Act, homelessness refers to aperson who is deprived ofa fixed, regular and suitable place of night-time residence; and an individual who has a primary nighttime residency that is designed to provide temporary living accommodation or a private or public residence that is not intended for, or normally utilized as a standard sleeping housing for human beings. A broader definition of homelessness was provided by Lois(1998). It moves beyond the physical presence of housing, and include the notion that individuals and families live in inadequate housing circumstances not by choice, but because of a lack of social and material resources necessary to obtain and maintain housing. This definition has also been used to include those individuals living in flop houses, shelters, missions, and in overcrowded conditions.

Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Research Approaches

Qualitative methods approach

Qualitative research methods are methods for collecting, analyzing and interpretation of data on phenomena that are not easily reduced to numbers or that might be destroyed by any attempt to do so. That is, they are grounded in the normative paradigm and have come to mean the collection of data not easily reduced to numbers. Qualitative research methods are of specific relevance to the study of social relations (Stejskal, 2008, p. 4). It is anexpansive term that stands for a multiplicity of research approaches, and functions as a means of comprehending how and why individuals conduct themselves as they do in the light of their multivalent individualities. The data obtained from qualitative methods are usually in the form of words or pictures, open-ended interviews, observation rather than numbers and the analysis is usually inductive(Neuman, 2014, pp. 51-52). Qualitative methods involve a researcher describing characteristics of people and events without comparing events in terms of measurements or amounts.

Qualitative method is multi-method in focus, encompassing an explanatory, naturalistic methodology to its substance. This infers that researchers in qualitative studies examine subjects in their natural backdrops, making an effort to make sense of, or understand experiences in terms of theconnotations that individuals attach to them. They involve the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials-personal experience,life story, observational, case study, introspective, historical, interview, interactional, and visual texts- that describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in people’s lives(Thomas, 2003, pp. 2-3).Researchers using Qualitative methods seek to make sense of personal stories and the ways in which they interact. Qualitative inquiry is a parasol word for a variety of philosophical orientations to interpretative research. For example, qualitative researchers may call their work ethnography, case study, phenomenology, human ethnology, symbolic interactionism or participatory research.

Quantitative methods approach

Quantitativeapproaches are established in the positivist paradigm. They have come to denotethe collection of data suitable for statistical analysis. Quantitative methods focus attention on measurements and amounts of the characteristics displayed by the people and events that the researcher studies(Stejskal, 2008, p. 6).Quantitative researches employ the use of figures and statistical techniques. It is based on numerical measurements of particularattributes of a phenomenon and it conceptualizes from specific illustrations to seek out broad-spectrum explanation or to analyze causal hypotheses.It seeks analyses and measurements that can easily be replicated by other studies. Quantitative researchers aim at explaining and making predictions that can be generalized to other places and individuals. Careful sampling strategies and experimental designs are features of quantitative approaches designed at yielding generalizable findings. In the quantitative approach, an investigator’s responsibility is to examine and measure, and care is taken to prevent the investigators from sullying the data byindividual engrossment with the study subjects. The Investigator’s objectivity and detachment is of utmost concern.

Mixed methods approach

Mixed methods are a research approach that bridges the gap between quantitative and qualitative methodologies (Belk, 2007, pp. 199-200). Mixed method research is a type of research in which a researcher blend elements of both qualitative and quantitative research approaches such as the application of qualitative and quantitative perspectives, data collection, analysis, inference methods, for the purposes of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration (Clark & Creswell, 2011). It is a research in which the investigator collects, analyses, and incorporates the findings, and derives inferences by use of both quantitative and qualitative methods in a single study or a program of inquiry. Mixed methods are eclectic, pluralistic and rejecting traditional dualisms. They have been argued to be more pragmatic and driven by the research question rather than being constrained by paradigmatic assumptions. Mixed methods make use of both qualitative and quantitative approaches; the logic being both deductive and inductive.

Most Appropriate Approach For The Research Question

The most appropriate research method is qualitative research methods. According toThomas & Carter(1996, pp. 33-35)qualitative methods do most effectively help in explaining the social world and social phenomena. The phenomena of youths experience of homelessness in its sociological sense is best studied by qualitative techniques, and indeed may not be researchable by any other means. Further, according to Stejskal(2008, p. 5) experience is a phenomenon that is fundamentally qualitative. Thus, the study of such a phenomena is almost impossible using any other means. However, some aspects of the research topic are researchable through quantitative means, such as the sampling method to be used.However, in general terms, the research study is best approached qualitatively if the phenomenon is to be understood rather than just documented. Qualitative methods are also recommended for such a study if the study is aiming at understanding groups of people and their behavior, in addition to that of individual people. Thus,qualitative methods can be used to understand the behavior and needs of particular subgroups of society such as the homeless, single parents, the elderly and ethnic minorities.

Examination of young people’s experiences of homelessness can best be analyzed using qualitative methods. This is because in such a research study, qualitative study will help answer some questions that cannot be addressed by quantitative studies. Qualitative studies also do connect with the target population and the community in which the study is to be conducted; this is because they are more personal. They are also more prone to get at underlying realities of a situation such homelessness, also, qualitative studies will allow for a deeper and in-depth analysis and examination of a particular social situation, in this case, homelessness than quantitative methods do. Finally, qualitative methods allow for the human factor which is invaluable especially when researching on a topic that is sensitive to the target population.  This allows for the research findings to be more reflective of the phenomena under study.

Qualitative methods have been identified as the best methods to use in the assessment of issues or community needs. The application qualitative methods such as group interviews, individual interviews, or community meetings are especially ideal for the examination of young people’s experiences of homelessness.


In summary, qualitative research methods are methods for collecting, analyzing and interpretation of data on phenomena that are not easily reduced to numbers such as personal experience, introspective, or life story. On the other hand, Quantitative methods use numbers and statistical methods. It is mainly based on numerical measurements of specific aspects of phenomena and seeks explanations and predictions that will generalize to other persons. Mixed methods are a research in which the investigator collects andevaluates the data, desegregates the findings, and draws deductions employing both qualitative and quantitative approaches. A study that aims at examining young people’s experiences of homelessness would best be studied using a qualitative methods approach; however, some aspects of the study would require the use of quantitative approaches to research.



Belk, R. W. (2007). Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Bhugra, D. (2007). Homelessness and Mental Health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, V. P., & Creswell, J. W. (2011). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research (illustrated ed.). SAGE.

Lois, T. (1998). Homelessness, AIDS, and Stigmatization: The NIMBY Syndrome in the United States at the End of the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Neuman, L. W. (2014). Social Research Methods:Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (7 ed.). United States of America: Pearson Education Limited.

Ravenhill, M. (2012). The Culture of Homelessness (Revised ed.). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Stejskal, S.-M. (2008). Quantitative and qualitative research methods are not and should not be mutually exclusive: Discussion of the significance of this statement for planning research projects. GRIN Verlag.

Thomas, C., & Carter, Y. (1996). Research Methods in Primary Care (illustrated, revised ed.). London: Radcliffe Publishing.

Thomas, M. R. (2003). Blending Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Theses and Dissertations (illustrated ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

UN-HABITAT, & United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. (2000). Strategies to Combat Homelessness. UN-HABITAT.

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