This January, every Continuum of Care (CoC) in the United States will be conducting a point-in-time count of their homeless population. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants an accurate count of all people experiencing homelessness in a community – so they require communities to submit a count when they apply for homeless assistance funding.
Trouble is, we’re not getting the full picture. All too often, unaccompanied youth (kids not with their parents), get overlooked during these counts.
Communities have found that young people (under the age of 25) don’t behave like their adult counterparts: they don’t congregate in the same areas, they don’t always access the same services, they just can’t be found in the same places. So to get an accurate count of the total homeless population, communities must develop a strategy specifically targeting unaccompanied homeless youth.
Why, you ask? That’s a great question. Because we know that point-in-time counts are no picnic. We know communities are already expending tremendous resources to conduct counts. We know that asking communities develop yet another program to count specifically unaccompanied youth can seem cumbersome. We get it, we know, it’s not easy.
But they’re our kids. We all know they’re out there, we all know they need our help. Research has demonstrated that youth experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of experiencing violence, abuse, exploitation, and a host of other dangers. But we still don’t have enough evidence to back it up; in order to make the case that resources are needed to serve unaccompanied children and youth, we need better data.
After all, in order to find a solution, you first have to understand the problem.
So we put it to you: this January, take the extra step to ensure that you count unaccompanied youth. Engage local nonprofits serving at-risk and vulnerable youth, work with schools and other organizations connected with young people. Make sure to tap into the resources that are already out there; people and groups already interacting with this population.
Photo courtesy of Orin Zebest.