Parental Loss and Residential Instability: The Impact on Young Women from Low-Income Households in Detroit
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High poverty urban areas in the U.S. are over-burdened by early adult death and disability, yet there has been little documentation of how early parental death impacts youth residing in these communities. We conducted qualitative, community-based research on the health and well-being of 20 residentially unstable young women ages 18–24 in Detroit during 2011–2012. Participants were selected through their association with a local social service organization. We found that nine of these 20 young women had experienced the loss of a parent or primary caretaker during childhood or adolescence. Using data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this paper explores the role of parental loss as a precipitating event for residential instability and episodic homelessness. For these young women, parental loss was a catalyst for subsequent periods of intermittent homelessness and persistent mobility between the households of extended family and friends. These narratives provide unique testimony to the impact of early parental loss on young women from low-income households in an economically-stressed urban context in the U.S. Their stories highlight the dynamic associations between periods of housing insecurity and vulnerability to numerous social risks, including sexual commerce, acute stress, and alienation from social support networks. In this context, parental loss reflects a broader social inequality of early adult mortality in high poverty areas, and the health and social gains to be realized through targeted policies to support areas of urban economic crisis.
KeywordsParental death Homeless youth Young adult women Urban health Poverty
This research was conducted through the Detroit Youth Passages project, and funded by a grant to the University of Michigan from the Ford Foundation. We would like to acknowledge Alana Gracey, William Lopez, Caitlin Reardon and Joshua Traylor for their support in the development of this manuscript. We would also like to thank the young women who boldly shared their stories with us.
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