Factors Associated with Drop-In Center Utilization Among Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Published in: Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 91 (August 2018), Pages 347-354. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.06.027

Posted on RAND.org on August 21, 2018

by Joan S. Tucker, Eric R. Pedersen, Layla Parast, David J. Klein

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Drop-in centers for homeless youth take a low barrier approach to addressing both their basic needs (e.g., food, hygiene, clothing) and higher level needs (e.g., substance use treatment, mental health care, HIV/STD-related programs). Prior studies indicate that youth who use drop-in centers show improvements in health-related behaviors over time. The purpose of this study was to identify factors associated with drop-in center attendance in this population.


We conducted a cross-sectional survey with a probability sample of 226 youth who were unaccompanied (not living with a parent or guardian) and experiencing homelessness (mean age = 21.58 years; 27% female, 43% non-Hispanic White) to examine associations between predisposing, enabling and need factors with any drop-in center attendance and frequency of attendance in the past 30 days.


Youth were more likely to have used a drop-in center if they reported hygiene-related needs (i.e., showers, clean clothes) and more positive perceptions of the drop-in center environment. Of youth who reported any drop-in center use, attendance was more frequent among those who also used shelter services, perceived that more of their friends used a drop-in center, knew staff who they could count on for support, and had a more avoidant attachment style within close relationships.


The factors associated with any use of drop-in center services are distinct from those that may encourage homeless youth to use these services more frequently. Identifying these different set of factors can inform future outreach and intervention efforts to increase drop-in center utilization in this vulnerable population.

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