Online Program

Internet Use Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness - Novel Opportunities for Outreach

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lauren VonHoltz, BS, School of Medicine - Masters of Public Health, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Rosemary Frasso, PhD, MSc, CPH, Center for Public Health Initiatives, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA
Nadia Dowshen, MD, Adolescent Medicine, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Jesse Golinkoff, BFA, Masters of Public Health Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
background: Youth experiencing homelessness (YEH) are at risk for adverse health outcomes.  New media presents a novel opportunity for intervention and tracking of health behavior among YEH.  However, information is limited regarding how YEH use the internet, social media, and smartphone applications for general purposes and as a health management resource.  The objectives of this study were to (1) explore patterns of internet and new media use among these youth, (2) understand how use relates to health behaviors and information seeking, and (3) determine level of the interest in a website focused on issues facing YEH.

methods: A convenience sample of youth aged 18–21 (n=10) were recruited consecutively from a youth homeless shelter for a semi-structured interview.  Interviews were transcribed verbatim.  NVivo 10 was employed to facilitate double coding and thematic analysis.   

results: Major themes were identified: (1) changes in internet behaviors since experiencing homelessness, (2) health status as a major concern and reason for internet use, and (3) interest in a website addressing youth homelessness.  Internet behaviors were more goal-oriented while experiencing homelessness and less time was spent using the internet for leisure and entertainment.  When participants indicated that their living situation was tenuous, the internet was an essential resource for finding basic needs such as housing, food, and employment.  9/10 participants indicated they thought about their health frequently, using phrases such as “a lot” and “everyday”.  Specific health related internet and social media use included searching for information on acute illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), exercise, nutrition and calories.  Health status was also often mentioned as a source of preoccupation and stress.  Lastly, all participants expressed support for a website that had information geared toward youth experiencing homelessness.  Specific areas of interest included job classifieds, reliable landlords, women’s and men’s health topics, STDs, substance abuse information, health insurance, and education resources.  Others suggested the website should be used as a repository for important information such as vaccination records.

discussion:  YEH were able to access the internet during their time of housing crisis.  The internet was used for a variety of activities including those related to health.  Further studies should examine the impact of internet access on health outcomes.  Given the frequency and high levels of access to new media during homelessness and interest in a youth specific website, future efforts should consider using these platforms for dissemination of resources, delivering health related interventions and ensuring follow-up.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe online health seeking behaviors among youth experiencing homelessness. Assess the potential for using the internet, social media, and mobile health technologies as a method for health information dissemination and long term follow-up among this population. Explore interest in a website or mobile app specifically focused on the needs of youth experiencing homelessness.

Keyword(s): Youth, Homelessness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an MD and MPH student who has worked with those experiencing homelessness for 4 years. I also have several supervising mentors who have a long history of experience in working with homeless populations, development of surveys and interview questions, as well as social media.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.