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Young and Homeless: Exploring the Education, Life Experiences, and Aspirations of Homeless Youth

reviewed by Alexandra E. Pavlakis & Mark Pierce

coverTitle: Young and Homeless: Exploring the Education, Life Experiences, and Aspirations of Homeless Youth
Author(s): Tina Byrom & Sheine Peart
Publisher: Trentham Books, Stoke-on-Trent
ISBN: B07661QVPQ, Pages: 253, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

As Byrom and Peart (2017) highlight in Young and Homeless: Exploring the Education, Life Experiences, and Aspirations of Homeless Youth, “youth homelessness is a global problem” (p. 2), one impacting both the United States and United Kingdom. In fact, in the U.S., one in 30 (700,000) 13-17-year-olds experiences homelessness in a year. That statistics jumps to one in 10 (3.5 million) for 18-25-year-olds (Voices of Youth Count, 2017). In the U.K., estimates suggest that 86,000 young people (16-24 years old) requested assistance from their local authority in 2016-17 because they were either homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness (Youth Homelessness Databank, 2018). Around the world, youth experiencing homelessness tend to go underrepresented and underserved. Many of these youth cannot return home due to an unstable home environment, lack of family, or lack of stable residence.

Clearly these numbers are devastating, and yet they fail to represent the whole story. Because of the nature of youth homelessness (with couch-surfing, frequent changes of address, and fear of being identified and potentially returned to abusive households), youth experiencing homelessness often fly under the radar. It is important for us to understand this problem in order to address it. Young and Homeless takes a step toward alerting the world to this growing crisis.


In our combined roles as academic scholars, teachers, and school leaders, we have encountered and worked with a multitude of youth experiencing homelessness. Because Young and Homeless is a study of youth (14-25 years old) in the Nottingham region of the U.K., the book serves as an interesting comparison in terms of scope and service provision. There are some areas of this book that may seem alien to the American reader. Whereas in the U.S., school can sometimes extend until a student’s 22nd birthday and state mandatory attendance laws range from 16-19 years old (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017), in the U.K., compulsory secondary education is from ages 11-16. After age 16, education is optional; a student who wishes to continue in education may chose to take their A-Levels, GNVQs, BTECs, or other qualifications until the age of 18, then move on to university, employment, or additional training. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2012), 11% of 25-64-year-olds in the U.S. “have not attained at least upper secondary education” compared to 26% in the United Kingdom (p. 19). In the case of the U.S., schools serve an important role in identifying and supporting youth experiencing homelessness. In the U.K. context, the ability of schools to aid in identification and service provision may sometimes be truncated by policy differences in compulsory education. Yet, unlike in the U.S., there is a national curriculum; while all schools do not follow it, it does include sessions on housing (Byrom & Peart, 2017). Furthermore, while the U.K. government is not required to (and does not) accommodate everyone who requests housing, there are more robust housing-related entitlements than in most U.S. cities and states (Housing Rights Watch, 2018).


After outlining and contextualizing youth homelessness, Byrom and Peart explore the Positive Pathway Initiative, which combines government, family, and volunteer resources in an effort to address youth homelessness. The initiative first aims to prevent homelessness by informing youth “about the risks, dangers, and responsibilities of leaving home” (p. 31). It then moves on to trying to retain young people in the family and home network. The final steps include supported accommodation, floating support, shared student-style accommodation, and then ideally moving on to independent, stable housing. The authors note that, “although this model has great potential it lacks legislative authority,” suggesting that “it is easy to envisage a situation where the needs of homeless young people will not be prioritized and their needs will continue to be neglected” (p. 36).


Byrom and Peart also discuss their qualitative study of youth at the Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA), where they take us into the lives of 15 transient young people. Phase One of the study examined the educational experiences and aspirations of young people who were accessing NCHA services. Phase Two of the study examined the youths’ experiences with a peer-mentoring program that had been internally developed. Phase Two participants included peer mentors (currently or previously in accommodations) and three NCHA staff members. The authors coupled semi-structured youth interviews with program data, survey data from mentors, and entry and exit surveys from mentees. The stories of these youths shared a variety of themes across different contexts: family problems, employment challenges, educational problems, self-destructive behavior, aspirations, and the role of housing projects and peer mentorship in providing support.


We found the participants’ experiences compelling, yet we would have liked to have seen them presented as linear narratives or vignettes instead of immediately parsed out across themes. We believe this approach may have better foregrounded the voices of individual youths without prohibiting the authors from also exploring the themes. Furthermore, this study may have also benefited from a stronger use and application of theory as well as more transparency around some of their methodological decisions. Finally, while the authors suggest that current policies are not doing enough to address this pertinent social justice issue, more concrete recommendations and implications for research, practice, and policy would have strengthened the book. With that said, there is only a small body of research that addresses this important topic and captures the voices and lived experiences of young people experiencing homelessness. For scholars and practitioners who work with, study, and care deeply about understanding and addressing homelessness, both in the U.S. and abroad, this book may prove to be a useful resource.



Housing Rights Watch (2018). State of housing rights in the United Kingdom. Retrieved from  http://www.housingrightswatch.org/country/united-kingdom-0

National Center for Education Statistics (2017). Table 5.1. Compulsory school attendance laws, minimum and maximum age limits for required free education, by state. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/statereform/tab5_1.asp

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2012). Equity and quality in education. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/education/school/50293148.pdf

Voices of Youth Count (2017). Missed opportunities: Youth homelessness in America. Retrieved from http://voicesofyouthcount.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/VoYC-National-Estimates-Brief-Chapin-Hall-2017.pdf

Youth Homelessness Databank (2018). More than a number: The scale of youth homelessness in the U.K. Retrieved from https://centrepoint.org.uk/media/2396/more-than-a-number-the-scale-of-youth-homelessness.pdf

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22524, Date Accessed: 10/19/2018 3:03:42 PM

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