Not living with family members and drug use were the most important predictors of risky sexual behavior (higher number of partners and less consistent condom use) in unhoused adolescents in Los Angeles County. Gender and race/ethnicity played a much less important role.
Risky behaviors among homeless youth are common, particularly among females. About 7.6 percent of adolescents have been homeless at some time in the previous year. The goal of this longitudinal study is to examine the association between characteristics of new homeless youth (NHY), structural factors such as living situation, and sexual risk behaviors. NHY is defined as youth that have been away from home less than six months.
The study sample in this research is the entire cohort of NHY in Los Angeles County from another study that examined chronic homelessness in youth in the area. Adolescents were NHY between the ages of 12 and 20, and were interviewed between 2001-2002. The study hypothesized that NHY would report more sexual partners and less condom use than youth in houses with parental supervision. The partner hypothesis was supported for males but not females. For females, factors associated with more partners were time in study, age, drug use, and race/ethnicity (with Latinas having fewer partners). The opposite was true for condom use: for females, homelessness and drug use were associated with less consistent condom use, but not for males. The study also hypothesized that NHY who were drug users would have more partners and fewer condoms use. This was true for males and females.
Limitations of this study include not separating drug use by drug type and frequency of use; not distinguishing types of nondomiciled living arrangements (street versus other living situations, et cetera), and the fact that data were from self-reports. Nevertheless, the study shows correlations between living in nonfamily settings and sexual risk behaviors by youth. Drug use was also an important predictor of sexual risk behavior. These associations provide strong reasons to aid NHY in returning to living situations that provide strong social support.