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Understanding the experience of place for Portland’s homeless youth

Pear - Creatively Mentoring Homeless Youth

In Winter and Spring 2013, a team of five Portland State University (PSU) students mentored by Greg Townley, an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at PSU, recruited 28 youth at p:ear to participate in a three-part research experience consisting of: 1) participatory mapping exercises (i.e., working with youth to create maps of their communities, including areas where they participate in activities and access resources) and surveys; 2) semi-structured qualitative interviews asking youth about their histories of becoming homeless, the communities they belong to, the activities they participate in, resources they utilize, and factors that promote or inhibit their well-being; and 3) focus groups whereby participants were asked to share their experiences and provide suggestions to each other about areas to utilize resources and engage in activities.  The project generated enthusiasm and support from research participants and p:ear staff.  Results highlight the strong association between community belonging, social support, activity participation, use of health services, and psychological well-being.  The PSU research team looks forward to future opportunities to collaborate with p:ear on projects that aim to better understand and improve the experiences of homeless youth in Portland.

Homelessness in Portland is a large, visible, and growing concern, particularly among youth (i.e., individuals between the ages of 15 and 24), whose numbers increased by 25% between 2009 and 2011.  Homeless street culture is often one concerned with survival that can heighten risk of depression, suicide, substance abuse, and other health challenges.  Fortunately, establishing supportive communities can play a role in buffering the negative effects of living on the streets. p:ear’s place in the lives of the individuals interviewed included artistic expression, physical recreation, alternative choices, and a place of sanctuary:

“It [p:ear – ed.] makes me feel safe.  It also shows me different alternatives I can use.  I’m not using meth, heroin, PCP, or any drugs.  Like, I decided to pick up drums, and I’m good at drums.  I decided to pick up, like, rock climbing, cross-country skiing—I ski!”


Creative Map 2 Creative Map 1