To reduce violence in communities experiencing homelessness

People think threatening and violence is the answer. If everyone did mindfulness we would be living in a semi-better world. I didn’t know anything about mindfulness, all I did know was violence, how to protect myself. When I got to SPY, I learned mindfulness and learned how to relax myself with yoga. I feel like a different person when I do it.
— MyPath Ambassador after completing the program

MyPath is a social  network intervention that utilizes strategic selection methods to identify potential peer ambassadors in a youth community to promote violence reduction through the regular practice of mindfulness + yoga.

The MyPath Pilot was implemented in partnership with Safe Place for Youth (SPY) during the summer of 2018. During this project, eight mindfulness + yoga peer ambassadors participated in the weekly  program over the course of two months. Programming includes an intensive 3 hour deep dive into the impact of violence, mindfulness + yoga. The intensive workshop is followed by weekly 1 hour trainer-facilitated mindfulness + yoga classes that are open for attendance of non-peer ambassadors as well.

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Preliminary evidence shows that 6 weeks (T2) after the introduction (T1) of the MyPath programming, overall practice of mindfulness has increased with a large increase in daily practice of Mindfulness + Yoga Peer Ambassadors (MYPA). Additionally, weekly yoga practice for MYPA increased from 9% to 64%.

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Weekly yoga practice for MYPA increased from 9% to 64%.


Violence among homeless young adults  (HYA) is a complex phenomenon and is the product of multiple contributing factors including traumatic childhood experiences, subsistence survival strategies, and exposure to perpetrators during street tenure. In addition to proximal physical consequences including severe injury and death, violence contributes to psychological and behavioral health problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, externalizing behavior, arrest, and interruption of supportive services. Further, violence occurs in a dyadic space but it is also contagious in a social network, diffusing across social space.  Reducing violence is imperative to improving HYAs’ ability to safely and successfully exit homelessness and lead productive lives. However, effective interventions targeting violence in HYA populations are difficult to develop and implement because of the complex constellation of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to HYA experiences of violence.

Recent evidence suggests that adaptive emotion regulation, coping, and decision-making skills may reduce violence in this population. Adaptive emotion regulation strategies like problem solving, cognitive reappraisal, and emotional acceptance are associated with less severe mental health symptoms, physical aggression, and suicidality in HYA. Evidence suggests that mindfulness, defined as an attentional process characterized by awareness of the moment-to-moment flow of consciousness without judgment or elaboration, is linked to adaptive emotion regulation behavior, increased attentional control, and improvements in executive functioning in high-stress cohorts. In addition, physical yoga practice, both alone and in conjunction with mindfulness practices, has been shown to affect mental and behavioral health outcomes through both physiological and psychological pathways and has been characterized as “mindfulness in motion.” Crucially, mindfulness- and yoga-based interventions have demonstrated feasibility with HYA,a difficult-to-engage group often wary of outside service providers.

The proposed pilot study leverages an intervention approach that utilizes peer advocates (PAs) for participation in a mindfulness- and yoga-based intervention to reduce interpersonal violence and enhance prosocial skills and behaviors. Public health interventions using PAs to reduce violence and other health risk behaviors have consistently demonstrated effectiveness. PA models for intervention are guided by social learning theory, which posits that peers model and reinforce a learned behavior, such as violence, and that nonviolent behaviors can be learned, modeled, and reinforced in the same manner.