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High self-esteem can play a role too, says Portland State University researcher Katricia Stewart.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Mike Abshier, homeless liason officer with the Hillsboro Police, speaks to a homeless youth on the streets.High self-esteem might be the critical boost homeless youth need to get back on the right track, according to a new study from a Portland State University researcher.

The results — published in the Journal of Community Psychology in January — suggest that caseworkers and service providers may need to expand their offerings beyond hot showers, square meals and traditional health care.

"When it comes down to it, they're normal people," said PSU graduate student Katricia Stewart. "In another world, a lot of these people would have been my friends."

Working with the Portland mentorship nonprofit p:ear, Stewart interviewed about 100 youth living on the streets during summer 2017, guiding them through a survey measuring both the environment inside their head, and their local social context. Then she crunched the numbers.

The results show that self-esteem can strongly predict overall psychological well-being. Optimism, social support and empowerment were less predictive, though Stewart says a lack of psychological distress also is important for youth experiencing homelessness.

COURTESY PHOTO - Katricia Stewart"The data reinforced that p:ear is doing a lot of things right," said Stewart, 26. She noted that she was not much older than her interview subjects, who were between the ages of 18 and 24.

Stewart cautions that people without homes shouldn't blame their circumstances on a lack of internal confidence. "There are a lot of social factors that contribute to homelessness that are not their fault," she said.

"Intrapersonal and Social-contextual Factors Related to Psychological Well-being Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness" was completed with the help of Stewart's adviser, PSU professor Greg Townley.

It was funded by an American Psychological Association $1,000 grant, which was used to compensate survey respondents. Stewart, who is pursuing a doctorate in community psychology at PSU, will take on a role at the school's Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative beginning this summer.

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