Date of Completion


Embargo Period



adolescents, homelessness, coping, photo-elicitation, hope

Major Advisor

Brenda Kurz, PhD.

Associate Advisor

Joan Letendre, PhD.

Associate Advisor

Judith Bula-Wise, PhD.

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The purpose of this study was to understand the lived experience of adolescents in homeless families. The extant research lacks the perspective of homeless adolescents themselves, how they cope, and the assets that help them. Like their peers, homeless adolescents face many challenges, but in environments that can be less conducive to successful development. Housing instability can interfere with the social exposure often experienced in school and in communities, potentially leaving homeless adolescents more vulnerable to negative peer and social influences.

This exploratory research took a strengths perspective, using critical theory and phenomenology, to better understand the lived experience of homeless adolescents. A purposive sample of thirteen adolescents living in homeless families was asked to define and describe their experience of homelessness via in-depth interviews and photographs.

Thematic analysis using a phenomenological approach was conducted on the transcripts of the interviews, a group discussion, and the photographs taken by the participants. The qualitative analysis was informed by a very small quantitative assessment of hope using a survey given pre- and post-photography.

Major themes that emerged from this research included how homeless adolescents maintained old and developed new connections to people, places, and things that in turn helped them maintain, develop, and use internal coping strategies. Participants were more hopeful than expected as indicated by their scores on the Hope Scale and the qualitative analyses.

The results of this study articulate the self-identified strengths, assets, and coping skills of the cohort and identify potential strategies that may be helpful to other adolescents living with homeless families. Further, the results can be used by providers, especially school social workers, to better understand and integrate these strengths into their interventions. This research adds to the social work literature on adolescent homelessness, provides voice to this vulnerable population, promotes social justice, and informs practice.