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Rice, E., & Barman-Adhikari, A. (2014). Internet and social media use as a resource among homeless youth. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(2), 232-247. doi: 10.1111/jc4.12038.


The purpose of this study is to examine the various ways in which homeless youth use the Internet and social media, the context of their use and how it may foster positive relationships and online resource seeking.

Homelessness for this study was defined as youth who are without a consistent residence. This includes youth who are living on the streets, temporarily housed, living in transitional living programs or with friends or relatives but still use the services provided at the drop-in center.

The results from the computer-administered self-interviews state that more than three-quarters of the youth used the Internet within the past two days prior to responding to the survey. In addition, one-third reported they used the Internet the day of the research. In regards to the location where youth accessed the Internet half of them used the library, one-third at the youth service agency and one-fifth used the Internet at the place where they stay at night.

Regarding activities performed on the Internet over half reported using the Internet to access social networking sites, two-thirds used it to check emails and look for housing. Connecting with housed youth was a positive influence for these homeless youth. Those who communicated with housed youth were also more likely to find housing and look for jobs online. Socializing online allows homeless youth to connect to other networks, distant peers and build connections outside of their street life.

This study provides some awareness into the role of the Internet and social media in the lives of homeless youth. Just like housed youth many homeless youth also use and access the Internet and social media regularly for various purposes. Homeless youth also use the Internet to gather information, and fulfill their recreational and entertainment needs. Socializing online was critical for homeless youth just as it is for housed youth. Many youth also used the Internet as a resource for stability such as looking for housing and a job. Using the Internet for these purposes may allow youth to exit homelessness and regain stability.

The weaknesses of this study is that it does not address clearly the digital divide that homeless youth may face in relation to housed youth. For example, although they may use email and social media to stay connected, they may not have an electronic device or Internet readily available and therefore are not as quickly informed about things. Also, this study points out the positive networks that homeless youth can engage in by having access to the Internet when there are many homeless youth that have other barriers than being homeless and it is difficult for them to build strong and positive networks.

Page Author: Irene Moreno