Youth Homelessness and Social Exclusion: A "Methods from the Margins" Approach
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Social exclusion is the restriction of participation in one’s community; it is the denial of access to rights, services, dignity and respect. Youth who are homeless experience social exclusion on numerous fronts, as they are marginal to the social, economic and civil worlds of Canadian society. This dissertation is a qualitative, participatory project on youth homelessness that prioritizes voice by employing a “methods from the margins” approach (Kirby & McKenna, 1989). During this project I worked with youth who have experienced homelessness (ages 16-25), first in focus groups (n=13) and, then, through interviews (n=30), to explore their views on topics connected to social exclusion. The youth guided the topics that I explored, which I connected to the features of social exclusion outlined by Silver and Miller (2003). Results of this study highlight that youth who are homeless do not describe their experiences in terms of social exclusion. The results of this work question the homogeneity of experiences of the youth in the age bracket of 16-25, and review findings through three specific age categories of youth being “not yet adults,” “new adults” and “adults.” My findings indicate that youth who experience homelessness perceive themselves to be more independent and mature than youth who have not experienced homelessness, questioning dominant constructions of both “youth” and “homelessness.” Youth respondents also mentioned a number of other difficulties they experienced because of homelessness, including discrimination and limited opportunities for education and conventional employment and access to housing. This highlights the multidimensionality of social exclusion. At various points in the thesis I discuss youths’ views on rights and social citizenship, pointing to the impacts of limited rights and social safeguards in a neo-liberal state. Recommendations are made for reducing the social exclusion of youth who experience homelessness through “housing-first” approaches to addressing homelessness.