U.S. Minority Homeless Youth’s Access to and Use of Mobile Phones: Implications for mHealth Intervention Design

Larissa Jennings Mayo-Wilson, Nicole Lee, Deborah Shore, Nancy Strohminger, Burgundi Allison, Donaldson F. Conserve, Lawrence J Cheskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Few interventions for homeless youth have leveraged the potential of mHealth technologies, in part because of the limited data on phone behaviors, perceptions, and intervention preferences among youth experiencing homelessness. We conducted 9 focus groups (n = 52 homeless youth) and 41 individual structured interviews also with homeless youth in underserved communities in Baltimore and Washington, DC, to ascertain how youth perceived their mobile phone, acquired and maintained mobile services over time, and thought mHealth programs for this population should be designed. We also measured phone use, functionality, source, duration of ownership, and reasons for changing phones or numbers. Results showed that mobile coverage was high, as most youth self-purchased phones or received gift payments from others. Maintaining mobile connectivity was often challenging because of financial constraints and interpersonal conflict. Youth valued phones to access social support but used several tactics to avoid perceived negative consequences of phone ownership, such as harassment, theft, or relational disputes. Youth most preferred mHealth content relating to sexual, reproductive, and mental health provided that mobile communication was confidential, empowering, and integrated with other digital media. Integrating hidden phones, financial support, and safety management may improve homeless youth’s access to and engagement with mHealth strategies over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Health Communication
StateAccepted/In press - May 27 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health(social science)
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Communication


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