Purpose: To examine characteristics of youth homelessness associated with engaging in risk behaviors for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Methods: The sample included 288 currently homeless or runaway Washington, DC youth aged 14-21 years. Measures were self-reported homelessness characteristics, unsafe sexual behavior, injection drug use, and background characteristics. Bivariate and multivariable analyses of the relationships between homelessness characteristics and HIV risk behaviors were conducted.
Results: Both male (n = 140) and female (n = 148) participants reported high rates of unsafe sexual behaviors, but low rates of injection drug use. HIV risk was significantly associated in bivariate analyses with severity of homelessness circumstances (i.e., spending the night in public place or with strangers, going hungry, and participating in the street economy), the duration of homelessness (i.e., greater number of episodes of homelessness, longer time length of current episode), and specific reasons for being homeless (i.e., thrown out). In addition, sexual victimization and older age were associated with increased HIV risk. In multivariable models, a smaller set of these homelessness characteristics remained significant independent correlates and explained a substantial amount of the variation in the HIV risk indices for both males and females.
Conclusions: The results contribute to greater theoretical understanding of the characteristics of homelessness associated with increased risk of HIV infection within this vulnerable population of youth. The associations between homelessness characteristics and HIV risk suggest the need for HIV prevention efforts to focus directly on ameliorating the homelessness circumstances of youth.