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Homeless youth

The Windsor Residence for Young Men (WRYM, 2018) is a transitional home for self-identifying men ages 16 to 24. WRYM provides a “supportive functional family” to residents who may not have had or have any supports otherwise. Residents are given individual counselling and taught various life skills to help them succeed on their own. These skills include hygiene, cooking, social responsibility, work ethic, budgeting, accessing services, and aftercare. The residential program is entirely voluntary, however there is a strict set of rules including the home being a drug free zone and curfews. There is a zero-policy on violence, harassment, and discrimination. Residents face a variety of challenges as many are part of the LGBTQ2+ or new Canadians (WRYM, 2018). WRYM’s community mandate was made in 2012 and has been greatly exceeded. They promised to welcome 40 young men each year and now averages 50 within the resident program and 90 outside of it (totaling 140 young men). Each resident either establishes independent living or reunites with their family and returns home. In total, 70% of residents stay in or return to school and 40% find employment (WRYM, 2018). As many residents are challenged by mental health issues upon intake, WRYM is committed to obtaining diagnosis and beginning treatment within their first week. Trained psychologists and special education teachers are available to help address the complex needs of each resident. By removing these young men from violent or abusive environments they can begin to heal and thrive. WRYM is committed to helping breaking the cycles of abuse and homelessness. There is also 2 emergency beds at the residence for victims of crimes or tragedies. WRYM tirelessly works alongside other community organizations and agencies such as drop-in centres, sister agencies, treatment programs and services, and hostels (WRYM, 2018). The 4 crucial pillars that WRYM strives to provide for all its residents are life skills, emotional support, community referrals, and aftercare (WRYM, 2018). Life skills are an integral part of the transitional process if these young men are expected to succeed on their own. Staff provide comprehension life skills programming daily to help the resident’s meet their goals and feel confident going out on their own. Many of the resident’s seek assistance to WRYM because of severe life change (ex. mental health, family breakdown, etc). Staff are there to ensure that the youth have emotional support – and a lot of them build family relationships with the staff and other residents. Having a safe home and na understanding support network is part of WRYM’s duties to their residents. Community referrals assist the young men with accessing services outside of the residence. Not only is it not realistic to provide every service at WRYM, it is also important that each young man who leaves is able to access the same resources he did while he was a resident. Knowing who and where to go for help is an important step to aiding the resident’s independence. Aftercare applies before and after the resident’s leave WRYM. Long-term goals are established after the secondary intake and preparing for discharge begin almost immediately. However, care continues after the residents leave to ensure they have settled and are succeeding independently. Even once aftercare officially ends, the youth can always return and access assistance. WRYM is classified as a charitable organization – which means they are non-profit. Their funding comes primarily from donations and sponsors (WRYM, 2018). They limit expenses by utilizing many dedicated volunteers and outsourcing to community resources for additional assistance. A portion of room and board is paid for by provincial assistance agencies (ex. Ontario Works). Windsor Residence for Young Men (WRYM) is situated in the preventative sector of the criminal justice system. The purpose it serves within this larger system is to help prevent the cycles of: homelessness, abuse, poverty. By utilizing the criminological theories of strain theory, differential association theory and the Chicago School one can understand how this organization works to prevent crime and increase the social wellbeing of its residents. These three theories explain how personal, social, and environmental factors can intersect to cause crime. Where both strain and differential association theory explain the social motivators of criminal behaviour (Deukmedjian, 2018), Chicago School explains how a person’s environment motivates criminal behaviour (Deukmedjian, 2018). Strain theory focuses on personal, individual motivators such as one’s goals and means of attaining them. It posits that crime occurs from the lack of legal means to attain goals or meet needs (Merton, 1938). Differential association theory then focuses on social motivators and the learning of criminal behaviour, such as peers and opportunities. In other words, if a person feels that they can only attain their goals through committing a crime, they are more likely to associate with deviant peers as these peers would have the same mindset (Sutherland, 1940). These interactions would help them learn and accept their role as a criminal (Sykes & Matza, 1957). Chicago School brings this grand theory full circle as it explains the environmental factors within one’s community that influence crime. Competing moral values and the breakdown of social institutions in a community results in limited supervision, family disruption, and few organized school and community activities. This creates lack of cohesion and collective efficacy within communities, which allows for criminal behaviours to not only be learned but limited opportunities for people to reduce their strain (Shaw & McKay, 1969). By increasing legitimate opportunities for young men to attain their goals and providing a supportive and cohesive support system, WRYM helps prevent the various cycles that usually lead to crime. WRYM creates a community within the home that is positive and reliable, thus reducing the everyday strains that their residents would normally deal with. In addition, WRYM provides a safe space in the community where at-risk youth can access resources even if they are not residents, thus addressing a weakness in the community and implementing an effective program where it was needed. Academic literature relevant to the issues the Windsor Residence for Young Men (WRYM) focuses on is the projection and outcome of homeless youth when intervention does and does not occur. Current research indicates that homeless youth (ages 14-24) engage more frequently in risky activities, drug/alcohol use, and violent behaviours. Homeless youth are also at a much greater risk for mental health issues and eventually involvement in the criminal justice system than their non-homeless counterparts. It is imperative that organization like the Windsor Residence for Young Men understand the challenges facing homeless youth, and in this case young men. After gathering research between 1990 and 2013 on homeless youth and substance use – Heerde & Hemphill (2014) narrowed their literature down to those who included associations with criminal behaviours. From here, the data was analyzed and it was found that the rates of substance use among youth are considerably higher in the homeless than general population. The most commonly used substances chosen by homeless youth included alcohol, cannabinoids, and sedatives. In addition, researchers found that the perpetration and victimization of physical and property crimes was associated with homeless youths substance use. Consistently throughout the literature, there was an underlying theme that substance use may a coping mechanism used due to the strain that one experiences while homeless. The latent class analysis (LCA) is a commonly used tool to analyze how the impact of victimization of homeless youth impacts various aspects of their lives. In a study by Bender, Ferguson, Thompson, & Langenderfer (2013), victimization classes differing in type and frequency of victimization negatively impacted the homeless youths’ mental health. Specifically, those with major depressive episodes and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 601 American “street youth” ages 18-24 were studied between 2010 and 2011. They were divided into 3 classes – low-victims (experienced no or very little indirect or direct victimization), witnesses (experiencing indirect victimization), and high-victims (experiencing indirect and direct victimization on multiple occasions). Findings suggest that both youth in the high-victimization class and the witness class share high rates of depressive episodes and PTSD. Rates were rates of meeting the criteria for these disorders were two to three times higher than those in the low-victimization class. In an attempt to identify trajectories and patterns of homelessness of youth over the course of 2 years, Tevendale, Comulada, & Lightfoot (2010) studied over 400 youth age 14-24 who were receiving “homeless youth serving agencies”. Each participant completed six assessments over the course of this longitudinal study in order to monitor living conditions. The youths’ status fell into 2 categories: inconsistently sheltered (living on the street, squat, abandoned building, or automobile) or consistently sheltered (not living in any of those settings) in the past 3 months. The results showed 3 possible trajectories; consistently sheltered (41%); inconsistently sheltered, short-term (20%); and inconsistently sheltered, long-term (39%). The ability to return home and reason having left being involuntary predicted an inconsistent, short-term outcome. Younger age, no substance use (except marijuana and alcohol), ability to return home and homeless lasting less than 1 year predicted the consistently sheltered trajectory. These findings suggest that despite individual impairments (ex. substance use and mental health issues), youths’ ability to return home is an important contributor to youth entering a chronically homeless status. For many homeless youth, involvement in the criminal justice system is not uncommon. Due to a multitude of factors, homeless youth can find themselves at a greater risk of being arrested and incarcerated than their non-homeless peers. Research by Snyder, Hartington-Saunders, Brezina, Beck, Wright, Forge, & Bride (2015) analyzed data from the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Using government registries allowed them to analyze data generalizable to the public in order to apply Agnew’s (2006) general strain theory to identify some of the key factors that place homeless youth at high risk of criminal justice system involvement. The most notable strains found to impact homeless youth include experiences of poly-victimization, discrimination and violent victimization due to one’s LGBT identity, and isolation from social services. Another study conducted but Baron & Kennedy (1998) of the effects of threat of legal punishment on criminal behaviour of male homeless youth found correlation between serious offenders and lack of fear of repercussions. In other words, homeless youths’ fear of punishment is reduced factors such as poverty, drugs use, and association with criminal peers. Findings suggest that the longer they are a part of this unconventional environment, the more isolated they get from society. What all of this research suggests is that at-risk and homeless youth face a complex variety of challenges that need careful consideration when attempting to intervene. Stain theory, differential association theory, and the Chicago School can begin to explain why youth get involved in crime and how homelessness can be a strain that pushes them towards a risky lifestyle. The Windsor Residence for Young Men utilizes these criminological theories and research to run an effective program for homeless young men in this community and it establishment is a milestone in the right direction.

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