Bender, K., Begun, S., Dunn, K., DeChants, J., & Mackay, E. (2018). Homeless youths’ interests in social action via Photovoice. Journal of Community Practice, 26(1), 107-120. doi10.1080/10705422.2017.1413027 


Homeless youth have been viewed as difficult to engage, which may play a role on the lack of photovoice specific research among this populationThey may not be as engaged with such approaches as they carry a mistrust towards service providers, and may view service providers as judgmentalPhotovoice approaches have a goal to involve youthprovide them with the opportunity to feel empowered and reflect on social issues that they want to see improvements in. Thus, this study examines the motivating factors that may encourage homeless youth to participate in photovoice, the kinds of social issues that are meaningful to them and explore their willingness to become involved in a longer-term photovoice study. 


  • The photovoice approach involves providing individuals with cameras to record their day-to-day lives while navigating their communities.  
  • The photovoice approach has three goals embedded: a) allows participants to think about their community in a way that gives recognition to the community’s strengths and weaknesses b) foster discussions about social issues related to the captured photographs c) aim for policy change.  
  • Homeless youth face a low number of educational and employment opportunities, mental health difficulties, and substance misuse patterns. To cope with these challenges, a photovoice approach has been proven to increase empowerment and self-advocacy. 


  • Purposive sampling was used to select homeless youth interested in participating in the photovoice approach at a homeless youth shelter in the United States.  
  • The sample consisted of participants from the ages of 18-20 and involved 12 women and 10 men.  
  • A total of 6 Black, 6 Latino, 6 individuals of a mixed race and 4 individuals who were of another race were involved in the study. 
  • 18 participants identified as straight and 3 participants identified as bisexual, lesbian or transgender, and 1 participant did not disclose their sexual orientation.  
  • Semi-structured interviews were carried out with the youth that lasted an average length of 45 minutes  
  • Open-ended questions were asked on how the participants view the photovoice approach, societal issues that they hold significance to and their willingness to commit to a longer photovoice project.  

Discussion and findings 

Factors Assessing the Motivation to Participate: 

  • Participants were motivated to participate in the study as it allowed them to make connections, express themselves and learn new skills. 
  • They viewed this study as an opportunity to express their experiences of navigating homelessness and viewed it as an opportunity to mitigate the stigma on homelessness.  
  • They also found value in being part of something that is meaningful. 

Social Issues: 

  • Participants discussed social issues that were important to them such as lack of accessible services, lack of emotional support and the increasing stigma surrounding homelessness. 
  • Majority of participants discussed lack of affordable housing and lack of employment services as major barriers to improving their circumstances  
  • Participants discussed a need for emotional support to find a job, seek educational opportunities and not reside on the streets upon entering transitional housing  

Commitment to Project: 

  • A majority of participants discussed determination, leadership and having clear missions would increase commitment.  
  • Most youth used positive self-affirmations to help them stay committed to the tasks of the project.  
  • Youth also discussed the desire to commit to this project for leadership opportunities  
  • The photovoice project provided them with a sense of belonging and connections that encouraged them to stay involved in a lengthier project 


  • This study has shown an ability to engage homeless youth in activities that leads to empowerment and social change 
  • The findings provide hope for increasing future participation of communities that are difficult to engage  


  • The study highlighted the need for a research agenda as it would provide context on implementing a specific structure for the project, the number of meetings required to attend and details on photovoice activities.  
  •  Future studies can investigate the positive impact that photovoice has on the community and how the approach influenced the youths’ perception about themselves and the relationships they have with others.