Initiative improves tools to count homeless youth in California

October 12, 2015

cardboard houseHow many young people are homeless in California? 

This question propelled the We Count, California! team to conduct a two-year technical assistance project to help communities across California obtain a better estimate of how many children and young adults experience homelessness at a single point-in-time in California. 

The initiative, led by Associate Professor Colette “Coco” Auerswald, published a new report in September: We Count, California!: Lessons Learned from Efforts to Improve Youth Inclusion in California’s 2015 Point-in-Time Counts. The report highlights promising practices for counting unaccompanied minors and young adults experiencing homelessness and reports the latest figures from communities’ 2015 Point-In-Time (PIT) counts across the state.

“Without data, youth are invisible to policy makers and do not get the resources they deserve,” says Auerswald. “We are hoping that by sharing tools for counting to all communities we can support improved youth inclusion over time all over the state. We are slowly seeing changes in federal policy and increased openness in communities to adapting counting methods to be more developmentally appropriate.”

In California’s 2015 PIT count, 11,365 children and youth were counted as “unsheltered, unaccompanied,” i.e., found to be residing places not meant for human habitation—such as cars, busses, parks, abandoned buildings, or train stations. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 made up the vast majority of this count at 10,532. This number has increased by 8 percent since 2013 and by 87 percent since 2011. There are also substantial numbers of unaccompanied minors identified each year. This year, 834 unaccompanied minors were found to be living unsheltered across California. 

“That this many unsheltered, unaccompanied children and youth were found to be residing in a place not meant for human habitation on one night in California is shocking,” says Auerswald. “But it is even more shocking that this number is no doubt a vast undercount, given that many counties counted no homeless minors and/or fewer than 50 homeless young adults, numbers that defy common sense.”

Auerswald hopes that communities can build on the training they received from participating in We Count, California! In order to further increase youth inclusion in the 2016 and 2017 PIT counts.

Referring to the federal goal to end youth homelessness by 2020, she says, “There is a window of opportunity to address youth homeless in our country. It won't be open forever.”

We Count, California! is a collaboration between the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP) of the California State Library and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Innovations for Youth (I4Y). The initiative seeks to support communities statewide—and eventually nationwide—in improving youth inclusion in their PIT counts with training, and standardized survey tools that can be employed across the state and adapted to each community, with the overall goal of fostering policies that will increase access to federal funding to better serve homeless youth.

Coauthors of this report were Jessica Lin MPH '10 and Laura Petry MSW '14 both with I4Y at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and Shahera Hyatt, executive director of CHYP. The project was funded by the California Wellness Foundation.

By Jasmin M. Huynh

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