LOS ANGELES (CBS) — For teens without a home, a cell phone is an essential lifeline, according to a USC study released Tuesday.

The study — titled “Cell Phone Use Among Homeless Youth: Potential for New Health Interventions and Research” — found that of the 62 percent of homeless youth who own a cell phone, 51 percent use it to stay connected to friends, 41 percent use it to stay in touch with parents, and 36 percent use the phone to seek work.

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“Homeless youth are not hopeless cases,” said Eric Rice of the USC School of Social Work, whose study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Urban Health. “They don’t have to be lost.”

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Homeless youth are different from many homeless adults in that teens have fewer mental and substance abuse problems that may be hurdles to getting off the streets and returning to a more stable environment, Rice said.

Staying in touch provides more opportunities to find a stable home, he said.

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“Cell phones have changed what it means to be a homeless teen as these youth can look for help beyond the streets,” Rice said. “If you don’t have to steal to get a meal, the chances of you going to jail decrease.”