Better, Systematic Crisis Response Needed to Help Homeless Young People

(Note: An article related to this work has been published in the journal Cityscape.)

Given the high number of young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, current housing resources are insufficient to fully address the challenge. To achieve the greatest impact with limited resources, communities across the country are beginning to move from fragmented programs toward coordinated, system-level responses to youth homelessness. To support communities’ efforts, we analyzed the largest national data set combining youth risk assessments (based on the TAY-VI-SPDAT: Next Step Tool for Homeless Youth (NST)) with homelessness systems data. The analysis examined the relationship between risk assessment scores for young people ages 15 to 24, related services offered, and outcomes. We also looked at what the data could tell us about young people’s experiences with homelessness systems.

What We Did

We analyzed data from local homelessness systems across 16 communities in 10 states. These data were collected as part of routine intake and monitoring processes. The communities include urban, suburban, and rural areas. This dataset contains 2 to 3 years of intake assessments and homelessness management information system (HMIS) data on nearly 11,000 young people.

What We Found

  • Risk assessment scores successfully predict likelihood of continued housing instability.
  • Most youth participating in housing programs remain out of homelessness systems for at least a year after starting those programs.
  • Strategies are needed to help many youth who await placements. While higher risk scores predicted lower likelihood of exiting homelessness without formal housing programs, 1 in 3 low-scoring youth remained without a positive exit from the homelessness system.
  • Many youth face long and harmful waits for housing. Most youth waited about 4.5 months to get housing placements, and every additional day of waiting was associated with a 2% decrease in a youth’s likelihood of staying stably housed.
  • Racial and ethnic disproportionalities in both homelessness and outcomes point to the need to address inequities in homelessness systems.

What It Means

We found that a research-based risk assessment tool for youth experiencing homelessness, along with local data, can help communities make smarter decisions about the difficult task of prioritizing limited housing resources. The data also suggest positive housing outcomes associated with housing programs for youth last for at least a year, underscoring the importance of such resources. However, the data also show that far too many youth remain homeless or are waiting long and harmful periods to get the support they need.

This evidence should inform better coordinated crisis-response systems for young people across the country. At the same time, the findings also point to a significant need for more creative early intervention strategies that provide supports to young people who haven’t yet reached high levels of assessed risk. These strategies should include greater efforts and investments to work across public systems to prevent youth from reaching the point of crisis and having to come into under-resourced homelessness systems in the first place.

Recommended Citation
Morton, M. H., Rice, E., Blondin, M., Hsu, H., & Kull, M. (2018). Toward a system response to ending youth homelessness: New evidence to help communities strengthen coordinated entry, assessment, and support for youth. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Toward a system response to ending youth homelessness One-page summary