Homeless Youth, PIT Counts & Breaking the Cycle of a Youth Social Service System that Just Doesn’t Work

Every year, the City of Lowell and thousands of communities across the country have the very difficult task of performing a Point in Time count of all of the homeless men, women and children in any given community. We are able to guage how many adults and dependents there are in the community, as they are typically serviced through sheltering and outreach programs.

You see, these numbers are so very important for two main reasons:

1.) The data drives the funding allocation

2.) The data drives the short and long term planning processes around programmatic and housing development.

The one population that we, as a city, have yet to get  an accurate count on – is our homeless youth population. While the cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill have individual adult shelters (serving those 18 and up), there are ZERO emergency sheltering programs for our homeless youth. The reasons for their homelessness vary: parents can no longer afford to take care of them, behavioral/mental health issues, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and so on.

As a regional initiative, is this an area of programming we can provide? Picture this…a boarding school type program for homeless youth. The kids live in dorm style housing, staffed with Resident Advisors from our local colleges. Not only are the RA’s providing supervision, boarding students are afforded the opportunity of mentoring from their college age Resident Advisor’s. Kids go to high school right in their own community with an incentive for college advancement.

 The Merrimack Valley is positioned well for this type of endeavor, given the caliber and sheer number of community colleges, State Universities and private colleges.

The results?  — Kids who might have otherwise have become homeless, dropped out of school and likely set out on a path that leads to a lifetime of bleak poverty are INSTEAD – kept in school, provided with the mental health care to unwrap all of the family issues that got them to that place and along the way they become educated, contributors to our communities.

Well, here’s the article from www.change.org that got me thinking on this issue.

How to Count Homeless Youthby Josie Raymond October 23, 2010 08:09 AM When it comes to being counted, homeless youth are often the “slipperiest” of that slippery group of people known as “the homeless.”

It’s well known that most estimates of the homeless population are on the low end since their methodology is generally flawed. Some people avoid homeless counts and the Census and others are doubled up with friends or living in weekly-rate hotels, where not even the Department of Housing and Urban Development considers them homeless.

When it comes to young people, sometimes they don’t want to be found because they’re runaways and would rather not be reunited with family members they fled. Sometimes the people doing the counting overlook teenagers and college students who have a knack for blending in with a society they’re actually locked out of.

But as the National Alliance to End Homelessness reminds us, we can’t solve youth homelessness until we get real about how big the problem is. This week the NAEH issued a brief to assist facilitators and volunteers of national Point in Time (PIT) homeless counts, scheduled to take place in January 2011.

“Too often, PIT counts fail to account for unaccompanied youth age 24 or under who are homeless,” the Alliance writes”. “As a result, the extent of homelessness within communities is inaccurately portrayed and local plans to end homelessness neglect the needs of unaccompanied youth.”

Their steps to ensure that no one is left out: 1) make sure PIT counts include strategies for finding and enumerating homeless people age 24 and under by engaging youth and the organizations they rely on in planning, 2) map out locations where they’re likely to be found, including malls, rec centers, LGBT hot spots and more, 3) facilitate collection of count data, 4) analyze the data on youth homelessness and 5) use the enhanced PIT findings to educate the public and our elected representatives about the prevalence of youth homelessness (which might make the front page or the evening news faster than a story about homeless adults).

Photo credit: stuartpilbrow

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