Youth Counts Provide Critical Information About the Number and Characteristics of Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Communities can only make progress toward preventing and ending homelessness among youth if they have data on the size and composition of the local population of youth who are experiencing homelessness. However, data on the number and characteristics of youth experiencing homelessness can be difficult to obtain. Youth counts are one approach communities can use to gather this information. Youth counts also present an opportunity to empower young people who have experienced homelessness by involving them as full partners in youth count planning and execution. This is the fourth in a series of briefs from the Voices of Youth Count initiative.

What We Did

This brief draws upon our experience conducting point-in-time counts of youth experiencing homelessness in 22 counties across the U.S. in the summer of 2016. Our partner counties were randomly selected to be geographically diverse and to vary in their population density and homeless youth services infrastructure. Building upon and incorporating promising practices, Voices of Youth Count conducted youth counts using a consistent approach that involved surveying youth in locations where youth experiencing homelessness were likely to be found. This brief highlights lessons learned from conducting these point-in-time youth counts.

What We Found

Counting youth experiencing homelessness requires careful planning and targeted approaches that may be different from approaches used to count homeless adults and families. Engaging a diverse group of youth who have lived experience with homelessness is vital to deciding where and when to conduct the count. Youth can also be critical partners in conducting the count, as young people may be more willing to complete a survey administered by peers with lived experience than by service providers or volunteers. Identifying youth experiencing homelessness by asking young people where they slept the night before, rather than based on visual cues alone, is important because youth experiencing homelessness may take great pains to avoid appearing homeless. Conducting annual or biennial youth counts can allow communities to track changes in the local population of youth experiencing homelessness over time.

What It Means

Based on our experiences, communities can increase the chance of conducting a successful point-in-time count of youth experiencing homelessness by:

  • Partnering with youth who have experienced homelessness to plan and conduct the count
  • Engaging a broad range of stakeholders in planning and conducting the count
  • Being intentional about the timing and duration of the count
  • Designing counts to include youth experiencing different forms of homelessness
  • Mapping the locations where youth experiencing homelessness are likely to be found in advance of the count
  • Using a survey to identify youth experiencing homelessness
  • Making informed choices about the content and length of the youth survey
  • Supplementing youth counts with HMIS data
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