Thursday, May 09, 2013

Homelessness After Foster Care

I recently read a report that did an excellent job of outlining the current lack of accuracy and effectiveness in measuring homeless youth in general -- and downright inadequacy in terms of finding out if they have a history of foster care. And definitely not if they are "couch-surfing, rather than checking in at homeless shelter.

The publication is called:  Hidden in Plain Sight: Counting California's Unsheltered Homeless Population:

How the Federal Government Counts Homelessness:
Homeless programs that receive federal funding must do a biennial Point-in-Time count of the number of homeless people in their communities. HUD is now requiring that this count include unsheltered, unaccompanied minors as a separate subgroup.

Historical Oversight of Homeless Youth and Young Adults:
Quoting from the report referenced above:

  • "Homeless youth are a hidden population that has historically been undercounted in local, state, and federal efforts to enumerate the homeless population. 
  • In recent years, researchers and advocates have emphasized the importance of considering the needs of homeless youth as a distinct sub-population of the homeless population overall. 
  • A clear recognition has emerged that improvements to the wellbeing of homeless youth in the US must be informed by accurate data regarding the prevalence and composition of the homeless youth population (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2012a).
Limitations of the Point-in-Time Count
This is only a head-count at shelters.  It completely misses youth who are "couch-surfing."

The Hidden in Plain Sight report recognizes this reality and specifically refers to:

  • "Missing sub-groups of youth, including couch surfers; hotel- and motel-based homeless youth; campers; youth of color; youth who do not self-identify as homeless; homeless students; and juvenile justice or child welfare service-involved youth."
It's important to recognize the significant known barriers and challenges to counting youth:

  • Homeless youth are a hidden population that is hard to locate and identify
  • Youth are known to avoid services, particularly services intended for homeless adults
  • Stigma may affect the degree to which youth identify as homeless
  • Youth homelessness differs from adult homelessness in that it is often intermittent
Despite considerable advances in methods for counting homeless adults in the last 20 years, there has been less focus on how to improve the methods for counting youth.

Recommendations to address these challenges, including the following:

  • Create a better count definition of youth homelessness that is more workable on the ground 
  • Look for more effective ways to capture homeless youth counts
If methods can be developed that can accurately count homeless youth and be feasibly replicated over time, this would allow local, state, and federal stakeholders to inform social policy when it comes to funding streams for this extremely vulnerable population.

Can't be  full-time student