Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Educational and Psychological Studies (Education)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Etiony Aldarondo

Second Committee Member

Josh Diem

Third Committee Member

Scot Evans

Fourth Committee Member

Isaac Prilleltensky


Despite decades of interventions to address the immediate needs of homeless youth, America still suffers with youth homelessness. This study suggests that real solutions have come, and will continue to come, from individuals using collective action to redistribute sociopolitical power and resources. The study aimed to understand (1) why people become activists on behalf of this population, and (2) what qualities and characteristics allow them to remain in this work despite its challenges. A review of the literature uncovered more than twenty situational and developmental factors for activists of numerous causes but none examined homeless youth activists and very few integrated factors from multiple disciplines. Some factors spoke to the essence of ‘being’ an activist whereas others spoke to developmental processes of ‘becoming’ one. I used a critical qualitative orientation (Carspecken, 1996) blending phenomenology and grounded theory to explore the development and prolonged engagement of collective action in 13 adult participants (six males, seven females, with a combined experience of over 175 years of collective action). Six participants held advocacy or policy positions and seven held administrative roles in organizations that served youth. Participants were recruited by snowball sampling methods and completed surveys of activism identity, commitment and behavior, as well as semi-structured individual interviews touching on themes identified in the literature. The data revealed that homeless youth activists tend to identify themselves more as advocates and describe their work as advocacy instead of activism. Moreover, participants described five developmental categories containing 20 factors and two situational categories containing ten factors which supported and expanded the extant literature. On “becoming” advocates, participants (1) received foundations of community involvement, (2) experienced privilege or marginalization, (3) started careers foreshadowing homeless youth advocacy, (4) chose to advocate for homeless youth in their careers, and (5) possessed self and world-view promoting advocacy. On “being” advocates, participants (6) felt validated and supported in their roles, and (7) possessed or articulated necessary qualities of being an enduring advocate. This study provides an illustrated application of various factors at work on individuals sharing similar passion and commitment for homeless youth. It demonstrates a bidirectional relationship between individual actors and the micro, meso, and macro sites they inhabit. It is one of the first syntheses of a set of broad and diverse factors and one of only a few critical examinations of privilege and marginalization in participants who address privilege and marginalization in others. Implications for theory, research, training, and the researcher-participant are discussed.


activist, advocate, collective action, development, youth homelessness, critical qualitative research,