Copyright Sociological Research Online,

Nowhere to Grow

Les Whitbeck and Dan Hoyt
Aldine de Gruyter: New York
0202305848 (pb); 020230583X (hb)
US$23.95 (pb); US$47.95 (hb)

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This book explores from a psychosocial perspective homeless/runaway young people and their families. It quantitatively analyzes data drawn from 602 interviews with homeless young people and with 201 of their parents or guardians. The research was conducted in the Midwest of the USA. The first part of the book (Part 1) examines through existing literature the extent of homelessness in the USA (Chapter 1) and provides an overview of the project and respondents (Chapter 2). In Part 2, the book looks at the home lives of the young people and the reasons for leaving (Chapter 3); generational family problems (Chapter 4) and intergenerational family relationships (Chapter 5). Part 3 looks at the social networks of young people once away from home (Chapter 6); the tactics used to survive on the street (Chapter 7); sexual relationships - their causes and consequences on the street (Chapter 8); and becoming a victim of crime or abuse on the street (Chapter 9). The final part of the book (Part 4) identifies the psychological problems caused by street life (Chapter 10) and using drugs (Chapter 11). The book concludes by offering a "risk-amplification developmental model" of the effects of youth homelessness (Chapter 12) and discussion of the, often depressing, future for these young people and calls for national attention to be placed on alleviating the hardships of young homeless people. (Chapter 13).

This book suggests that when young people choose to become homeless it is not a sudden event but the result of a long term conflict, abuse or disruption within the household. This conflict is often heightened by parents suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, having no or low incomes, and who have themselves a parent with similar problems.

The book quantifies the experiences of homeless young people and the precarious relationships that they have both with their families and with the people they come into contact with on the street. It provides an appreciation of the knock-on effects for young people of leaving home prior to being financially independent and having alternative means of emotional support and stability. It also highlights the varied nature of being homeless. Some young people are more vulnerable than others. Some are still supported by their parents either being given money or food. Others are driven to become involved in crime, sell drugs or sex for shelter, food or money.

Analysis is very much grounded in the psychosocial level and rarely delves beyond the family and its problems to explain homelessness. Initial analysis in the book highlights the economic background of respondents' parents but this analysis is not carried through the text which is a shame.

Whilst the book is clearly written, the endless inclusion of statistics can become exhausting for the reader; perhaps a more varied approach to presenting the data or the expansion of respondent quotes would remedy this overload. The end of each chapter provides a summary of the findings from the chapter and these are best read prior to the chapter itself to locate whether the crunch of numbers will be useful to the reader.

Sue Grundy
University of Newcastle

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