As noted by Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General "Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society's margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies." Homeless youth are one of the mot vulnerable populations worldwide. Estimates of the number of youth that experience homelessness each year are crude given difficulties identifying such youth. However, homelessness is not uncommon in the United States with an estimated 1.7 million homeless youth (Sedlak, Finkelhor, Hammer, &Schultz, 2002).Given that youth homelessness is associated with substance use, HIV risk, lack of education, mental and physical health problems, identification of strategies to engage homeless youth is an important focus of prevention/intervention efforts. Such focus might prevent chronic homelessness, substance use and mental illness into adulthood and can have significant public health consequences. Those who provide guidance for intervening in the homeless trajectory of youth who are cut-off from family and the system, recommend community based programs and funding to link these youth back to school, housing and employment (Chamberlain &MacKenzie, 2004). Many note the need for outreach, drop-in centers and reintegration services for street living youth (Robertson, 1991;Slesnick et al., 2008). This study provides the first formal test of an outreach intervention for substance abusing homeless youth who are not connected to services. Non- service connected homeless youth (N = 60) will be randomly assigned to one of two outreach conditions with the goal to engage youth to either a crisis shelter or to a drop-in center. The outreach worker will meet with the youth for 6 months to assist the youth's navigation of the service system. Follow-up will be conducted at 3, 6 and 9 months post-baseline. If successful, this study will provide important documentation of successful strategies to reach and engage these vulnerable youth into services.
The literature is characterized by a dearth of information regarding the impact of outreach on engaging non-service connected, substance abusing homeless youth into services. And, no longitudinal information is available regarding the impact of outreach interventions that link youth to services on substance use and other outcomes. This study seeks to address these gaps with the goal to identify effective strategies to reconnect homeless youth to existing services and to reduce associated problem behaviors such as substance abuse, HIV risk, housing, mental and physical health problems.