What ‘Counts’ Can’t Capture: The Spectrum of Unstably Housed Youth

kidswallIn January and February 2015, Youth Catalytics surveyed students in nine high schools in Connecticut, employing an innovative peer-report process designed to provide a reliable estimate of the number of teenagers in any given school district who have left home and are living somewhere else — a car, a friend’s house, a group home — temporarily.

The process was part of the state’s first-ever Homeless Youth Count and of Opening Doors-CT, a broad initiative that aims to design a comprehensive, integrated service system for homeless and unstably housed youth and young adults across the state. Direct counts of homeless young people are notoriously difficult to conduct, and no method effectively captures the large numbers of young people who aren’t literally on the street but still have no real place to call home. This approach questions youth directly about the living circumstances of their peers to arrive at a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the spectrum of youth homelessness.

In Connecticut, 5,439 students in 9 high schools completed the survey, which was administered to all students grades 9-12 in school on the survey day. A total of 930 unduplicated adolescents ages 19 and under were reported to be homeless or unstably housed. Put another way, for every 100 students completing the survey, 17 different young people were reported to be living somewhere besides home.

For every 100 students completing a survey, 17 different young people were reported to be living somewhere besides home.

Of young people reported as unstably housed, 25% were living with a friend; 15% with a girlfriend or boyfriend; 11% in a shelter or other transitional social service program; 6% in multiple settings; and 5% on the street or in a car. Thirty-three percent were reported to be living with a relative. Twenty-six percent of reported youth had been in their most recent living situation for 2-5 months; 16% for 6-12 months; and 12% for less than a month.

What’s the significance? It’s simple: communities only act on issues that are obvious and visible. Unstably housed youth aren’t either of these things. The only way we can prove they’re there — and thus drum up the support necessary to intervene early and help them stay in school and on track — is by  capturing estimates of numbers of young people all along the spectrum. Will there come a time when we stop trying to count, and start reaching out and offering help — and not just to those youth with absolutely no where to turn but to those on the way?

That’s our hope. That’s why we do this work.

Click here for more on this project, and detailed findings from schools.

(See the plan that resulted from the overall project, ‘Opening Doors for Youth: An Action Plan to Provide All Connecticut Youth and Young Adults with Safe, Stable Homes and Opportunities,’ here.)

~ Youth Catalytics Research Director Melanie Wilson

Posted in evaluation, funding, promising practices, uncategorized

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