California can do better counting homeless youth, report says

Homeless youth are a hidden population and have been historically undercounted in local, state, and federal efforts to estimate the homeless population, according a report issued by the California Homeless Youth Project on April 23, 2013.

Hidden in Plain Sight: An Assessment of Youth Inclusion in Point-in-Time Counts of California’s Unsheltered Homeless Population highlights best practices for counting unaccompanied minors and transition-age youth experiencing homelessness. According to the report, “A clear recognition has emerged that improvements to the well-being of homeless youth in the US must be informed by accurate data regarding the prevalence and composition of the homeless youth population.”

To identify the challenges and successes communities have had in counting homeless youth, researchers interviewed staff from 31 of the 43 Continuums of Care in California about their experiences conducting the 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) count. Mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the PIT count is conducted in order to receive federal funds for homeless assistance and improve community planning efforts to end homelessness.

From the interviews, researchers identified common challenges in accurately counting homeless youth, which helped guide recommendations for communities conducting future PIT counts, including:

  • Involving youth service providers and homeless youth as PIT count enumerators/interviewers;
  • Providing a stipend to youth for their time staffing in the count; and
  • Incorporating a dedicated count of youth at specified locations and times of day during the PIT count.

The report was commissioned by the California Homeless Youth Project and prepared by the Youth in Social Environments Group of the UCSF Division of Adolescent Medicine and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, supported by funding from The California Wellness Foundation.

Authors of the report are Colette (Coco) Auerswald M.D., M.S. ’89, associate professor and director of research training in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program; Jessica Lin M.P.H. ’10, a research analyst at UCSF; Laura Petry a graduate student in Management and Planning at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare; and Shahera Hyatt at the California Homeless Youth Project.