Sample Paper on Homeless Youth on the Road

Sample Paper on Homeless Youth on the Road


Every year, nearly 1.5 million youths in the United States become homeless either by being kicked out from home or after running away from home. While a good number of the runaway youths ultimately return home, a significant number detaches themselves permanently from their families and embrace a risky lifestyle on the streets characterized by a state of homelessness, drug abuse, and violence (Ferraro 250). We often criticize homeless people unfairly, and this only heightens the stereotypes and prejudices about homeless youths. However, in her book, “With no direction home: homeless youth on the road and in the streets”, Marni Finkelstein seeks to shed light on these stereotypes and prejudices. She takes us through the world of young homeless persons, their experiences on the street and living conditions. The essay seeks to provide a concise summary of the book, and an ethnographic methodology upon which the research is based.


            In her book, Finkelstein explores the lives of homeless youths in New York City by examining their living conditions, daily lives, and experiences on the street. The authors make use of a case study based on an ethnographic methodology that integrates qualitative interviews and direct observations. As a means of preserving the study’s accuracy, the author undertook ethnographic interviews of the study population namely, 50 homeless minorities. It is important to note that these interviews were conducted without censorship. Finkelstein has reported the common living environmental and situations facing the homeless youths, eventually enabling us to have an in-depth comprehension of the everyday life of a typical “street kid.” To commence her research, Finkelstein examines the various circumstances that could compel a youth to leave home for the streets by examining the various agents of street socialization.  To assess the kind of life led by homeless youth, Finkelstein sought to examine their ability to survive a novel social order. It emerged from her interaction with the homeless youths that each of them went through socialization to learn more about territorial boundaries, networking for shelter, and financial sources like prostitution, drug running, and odd jobs, among others. Reputation played a key role in determining survival of the street kids.

Research Method

The choice of ethnographic methodology for this research is a key strength for this book. O’Really defines ethnographic research as “a special methodology that suggests we learn about people’s lives (or aspects of their lives) from their own perspectives and from within the context of their own lived experiences.” (86). This entails asking them questions and talking to them as is common with interviews and surveys, and getting to learn from them via participating in their lives, observing them and “asking questions that relate to the daily life experience was we have seen and experienced it.” (O’Reilly 86). Ethnography is especially significant in describing the social environment that may not be seen by normal observation. It is also an indispensable methodology of examining emerging phenomena like novel means of exploring drug addiction and formative socialization networks often displayed by street youths. Ethnographic approach has found increased use in anthropology as it facilitates the study of an entire culture through participant observation. This approach enabled Finkelstein to immerse herself in the culture of the homeless youths whom she was researching.  In this way, she was able to gain in-depth knowledge about the inner workings and intricacies that she could not have obtained from the existing literature. The technique was also beneficial in enabling the researcher gain insights into the customs and lives of the homeless youths, something that could not have happened if she had subjected them to a research questionnaire. The technique further allows the researcher to experience first-hand the culture of homeless youths without having to impose her own social reality on it. It also enables her to outline her own experiences in interacting with, interviewing and observing street kids, including being able develop a rapport with them.

Obstacles Encountered

            By conducting this research, the author’s intention was to give us an in-depth understanding of the daily lives and struggles faced by homeless youths. She did this by observing and reporting their experiences, the circumstances that force many youths to leave home and live on the streets, their experiences with violence and drugs, and their struggle in leaving the street life.  A key obstacle that the author encountered while conducting ethnographic research is what is known as Hawthorne effect. This refers to the presence of the researcher in the field. Should participants become aware of the presence of the researcher, they are likely to change their behavior, so that it is no longer about their daily routine comments or behavior (Kawamura 52). Ethnography should ideally take place in a natural setting. In other words, the ethnographer should be able to observe the natural behavior of his/her research subjects.

Stereotypes I had on street kids before reading this book

            Prior to reading this book, I held the stereotype that homeless youths almost always come from poor social settings. However, after reading this book, it emerges that kids from rich families can also become homeless as a form of rebel. For example, the author also held the stereotype that the homeless youths she intended to interview came from well-off families in suburban New York and that they were only on the street as a temporary measure, However, upon conducting the research, it emerged that they had actually been on the streets for several years, and most of them came from the West and South Coast.

Why this group is considered a “subculture.”

            The homeless youths can be described as a subculture because the beliefs and behaviors manifested by this group can only be fully understood and appreciated by comparing it to the beliefs and behaviors of the wider society. Homeless youths integrate the negative and dominant perceptions held by the mainstream society. The wider society views them as enemies and so they seek to embrace this viewpoint and stereotypes so that they eventually succeed in depicting themselves as outsiders to the dominant culture. This is best evidenced by their unique dressing code relative to the mainstream society, and by developing their own argot to communicate. Consequently, their very existence poses a threat to the mainstream culture.

Insights gained

This book is laden with useful insights that go a long way in enabling us to understand street kid culture better. For example, I have learnt that family issues such as sexual orientation, stepparent conflict and substance abuse are a contributing factor towards many homeless youths leaving home in the first place. Broken families trigger the development of deviant behavior among these kids and their decision to leave home for the streets is borne out of a desire to pursue freedom, find themselves, and possibly escape from the mainstream society (Finkelstein 23). Broken familial settings can thus be a leading cause for the existence of this group. One of the issues that surprised me about this group is that most street kids harbor a deep desire but this is never easy. I have always naively believed that street kids are reluctant to reform and for this reason, they choose to remain in the streets as a form of deviance. However, results of the interviews that Finkelstein had with the street kids who took part in her study revealed that they are actually willing to trade the street life for a better life, but frequently do not get the necessary assistance.


            A key take from Finkelstein’s ethnography is that even as many youths partake in deviant behavior such as drug abuse and violence in a state of homelessness, there is more to this form of sub-culture than meets the eye. The familial setting plays a key role in youth homelessness, including drug use, stepparent conflict, and sexual orientation, to name but a few. They move to the streets not because of their behavioral deviance per se, but increasingly, in search of freedom. It is also important to note that in the absence of a solid social network, homeless people rarely succeed.  The homeless youths are thus forced to fight gain a foothold in their marginalized state and more importantly, in pursuit of their goals. More importantly, the book has helped to dispel most of the stereotypes and prejudices I might have had about homeless youths, such as their willingness to feel a sense of belonging that they can only find in the home environment, and not on the streets.


Works Cited

Aptekar, Lewis and Daniel Stoecklin. Street Children and Homeless Youth: A Cross-Cultural

Perspective. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2013. Print.

Ferraro, Gary. Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective. Stamford, Mass.,: Cengage

Learning. Print.

Finkelstein, Marni. With No Direction Home: Homeless Youth on the Road and In the Streets, 1st

Edition. Belmonte, United States: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. Print.

Kawamura, Yuniya. Doing Research in Fashion and Dress: An Introduction to Qualitative

Methods. Oxford: Berg, 2011. Print.

O’Reilly, Karen. Ethnographic Methods. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.