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Deconstructing ideologies and practices of homeless youth crisis intervention

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Title: Deconstructing ideologies and practices of homeless youth crisis intervention
Author(s): Hodza, Fay
Director of Research: Kwon, Soo A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Kwon, Soo A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Oswald, Ramona F.; Raffaelli, Marcela; Anderson, Steven G.
Department / Program: Human & Community Development
Discipline: Human & Community Development
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Youth homelessness Crisis intervention homelessness as a crisis
Abstract: This study investigates the underlying ideologies behind the “crisis paradigm” of youth homelessness and how these ideologies, in turn, influence the practices of two homeless youth crisis programs, namely the Comprehensive Community Based Youth Services (CCBYS) and the Basic Center in two rural towns in the Midwest. The research employed grounded theory ethnographic methods including semi-structured interviews with 18 homeless youth and 11 service providers, participant observations at two centers, analysis of official reports and case management plans. Broadly, the study contributes to research on youth homelessness, crisis intervention, and human services delivery in community settings. Study findings reveal that youth homelessness was approached as a “crisis” that involved young people aged between 12 and 18 years who did not have a permanent place to call home because they ran away, were locked out, or had lost their homes, and lived on the streets or moved from friend-to-friend or relative-to-relative. As a crisis, youth homelessness was defined as a short-term, acute, and unexpected social experience that created a state of disequilibrium in young people’s lives by disrupting their sense of control, belonging, and identity. As a response to the disruptions associated with homelessness, crisis intervention was embraced as a viable approach to ameliorating the challenges that homeless youth face. This study reveals that the construction of youth homelessness as a crisis and the use of the crisis intervention model enabled service providers to immediately come to the rescue of homeless youth as soon as they were identified. It also legitimated the round-the-clock response system, an approach that required service providers to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This ensured that homeless youth received urgently needed services such as counseling, food, shelter, and clothing without time restrictions. Thus far, crisis intervention fulfilled its traditional mission of helping individuals facing unexpected debilitating events or conditions. On the other hand, this study reveals several limitations of crisis intervention for homeless youth. In both programs, youth homelessness was seen as a personal problem that could be addressed by providing social services to individual homeless youth. While agreeing with the view that crisis intervention is a systematic action to build spaces of normalcy and safety, provide material support and services for youth, this study argues that the process must be understood as more than merely providing ameliorative services. The study examines how the crisis intervention approach unintentionally produced disempowered, hyper-sexualized, and heteronormative subjects who were seen as needing specialized treatment for them to become “normal.” Using Bourdieu’s (1977) social practice theory, Butler’s (1990, 1999) theory of heteronormativity, and Foucault’s (1977) theory of disciplinary and governmental power, this study reveals the values and practices of crisis intervention that made it difficult for community crisis workers to transgress boundaries of gender, sexuality, and power in their work with homeless youth. Contrary to the taken-for-granted assumptions of homeless youth crisis intervention as a helping process, this study shows that this process may actually perpetuate gendered, sexualizing, disempowering, and exclusionary practices that made young people the focus of surveillance, control, and therapeutic treatments. Girls in particular were targets of such control. In addition, crisis intervention constructed homeless youth as either dangerous or innocuous based on their past experiences particularly with regards to their sexual histories. For instance, when homeless youth were viewed as in danger, they received ameliorative and empowering services, but when constructed as the danger, crisis intervention lost its innocence as homeless youth were constructed in need of treatment. This study examines how the construction of homeless youth as dangerous necessitated the administration of services in a rigid and surveillance-based format opposed by many homeless youth of this study. Surveillance involved the continuous observation and tracking of homeless youth in their daily activities through the use of electronic devices and round-the-clock physical monitoring by crisis employees. A more robust intervention approach that addresses the social context of marginalization and inequalities of youth homelessness is proposed.
Issue Date: 2012-05-22
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/31116
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Fay Hodza
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-05-22
Date Deposited: 2012-05
 

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