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Cityscape: Volume 20 Number 3 | What’s Next? A Theory on Identity Preservation for Young Adults in Supportive Housing


The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Youth Homelessness

Volume 20, Number 3

Mark D. Shroder

Michelle P. Matuga

What’s Next? A Grounded Theory of the Relationship Between Ontological Security, Mental Health, Social Relationships, and Identity Formation for Young Adults in Supportive Housing

Benjamin F. Henwood
Brian Redline
Sara Semborski
Harmony Rhoades
Eric Rice
Suzanne L. Wenzel

University of Southern California
Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

This qualitative study of 29 young adults (aged 18–25) living in permanent supportive housing (PSH) resulted in a grounded theory that shows how PSH generally provides a sense of ontological security for young adults—much like for older adults—who are also experiencing significant developmental change processes. Simply stated, ontological security refers to a concept of well-being in the world that is rooted in a sense of order in one’s social and material environment. Thematic analyses indicated that the presence of markers of ontological security (for example, constancy, routine, control) positively affected participants’ mental health and well-being, which helped with positive identity construction. An increase in ontological security also related to residents’ social environment and participants’ ability to improve on social relationships, which supported improved mental health and sense of self. Most young adults in this study regarded living in PSH as “a chance to start my life” and considered the question of “What’s next?” within a normative developmental trajectory. Counterexamples that demarcate the limits of these thematic findings are included in the grounded theory model, including some experiences of social isolation and struggles with mental health associated with less positive orientations toward “what’s next.”

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