Assessment of New York City’s Homelessness System Reveals Opportunities and Challenges to Meet Youth’s Needs

On a single night in 2018, more than 4,500 unaccompanied and parenting youth were counted as experiencing homelessness. New York City (NYC) has the largest homeless population overall, compared to other cities across the nation, and the third highest number of unaccompanied youth. New York City faces an urgent challenge to identify solutions to prevent and end homelessness among its youth population. The scope and scale of this challenge warranted an in-depth investigation of the full range of housing programs and services available to youth experiencing homelessness, the system capacity to deliver services effectively, gaps in capacity, and young people’s experiences with the system. 

What We Did 

We conducted the City’s first rapid, mixed-methods assessment of the services and supports available to youth experiencing homelessness, resulting in the report A Youth Homelessness System Assessment for New York City. We looked at prevention efforts, entry points, short-term housing assistance, and stable housing. The assessment took place from October through December 2018 and involved interviews with key stakeholders, focus groups with youth with lived experience, surveys of community-based service providers, and a review of administrative data 

What We Found 

  • The City has provided greater resources to address the issue of youth homelessness, particularly in the area of crisis response services, such as shelters and drop-in centers, and to a lesser extent, supportive housing.  
  • Other areas of the service continuum, including prevention and housing assistance programs, may indirectly provide services to youth by focusing on adult and family homelessness 
  • We found notable gaps in youth-specific prevention systems, long-term and affordable housing options for unaccompanied and parenting youthand limited services for youth to escape homelessness, including mental health, educational, and career development services.  
  • In addition to these gaps, programs appeared to be fragmented, with some youth (ages 21 and older) under-served, no strategic approach to measuring outcomes, and a dearth of information and support to navigate a fragmented system. 

What It Means 

 Together, these findings highlight the need for one of the City’s agencies or offices to take ownership and accountability of a coordinated system that will streamline youth’s interactions with the systemThe City should explore opportunities to build the infrastructure for a coordinated entry system so that young people have common front doors into the system’s full range of housing and services. The report recommends continued involvement of the Youth Action Board and the Youth Homelessness Taskforce to inform the development and delivery of a coordinated system that is response to young people’s needs, including a system-level theory of change for preventing and ending youth homelessness that centers on youth outcomes, experiences, and equity. Ultimately, and with the input of youth with lived experience, the City can fill gaps in services, monitor youth outcomes over time, and reduce inequities in the system. 



Report System Map and Capacity Overview System Map Executive Summary