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‘Hello, you’re not supposed to be here’: homeless emerging adults’ experiences negotiating food access

  • Elizabeth A Bowen (a1) and Andrew Irish (a1)

Abstract

Objective

We aimed to examine the food-seeking experiences of homeless emerging adults (age 18–24 years) in a US urban context.

Design

The study used a qualitative descriptive design, combining semi-structured interviews with a standardized quantitative measure of food insecurity. Interview data were coded using constant comparative methods to identify patterns across and within interviews. Emerging themes were confirmed and refined through member checking.

Setting

Buffalo, a mid-sized city in the Northeastern USA.

Subjects

A sample of thirty participants was recruited through community-based methods. Eligibility criteria specified that participants were aged 18–24 years and did not have a stable place to live. The sample was demographically diverse and included participants who were couch-surfing, staying on the streets and/or using shelters.

Results

Participants’ food access strategies varied across their living circumstances. Common strategies included purchasing food with cash or benefits (reported by 77 %), using free meal programmes (70 %) and eating at friends’ or relatives’ homes (47 %). Although 70 % of participants received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, several reported access barriers, including initial denials of eligibility due to being listed on a parent’s application even when the participant no longer resided in the household. Participants described a stigma associated with using food pantries and free meal programmes and expressed preference for less institutionalized programmes such as Food Not Bombs.

Conclusions

Given endemic levels of food insecurity among homeless youth and young adults, policy modifications and service interventions are needed to improve food access for this population.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: Email eabowen@buffalo.edu

References

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Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
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