11/20/2012 - Keeping the Momentum for Ending Youth Homelessness: Reflections from Indianapolis and Beyond

Last week, the Family Youth Services Bureau of HHS’s Administration on Children, Youth, and Families hosted two days of training and workshops on addressing youth homelessness at the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Grantee Conference. More than 550 participants from around the country met in Indianapolis to share knowledge and learn from others as we work together to end youth homelessness by 2020.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) provider community has thoroughly embraced the Opening Doors goal to end youth homelessness by 2020. The goal was mentioned throughout conference workshops, it was written in conference materials, and in the hallways of the hotel I heard this goal in discussions among providers, administrators, and policy professionals. It is inspiring to see the resounding commitment and enthusiasm for this ambitious goal has spread outside of Washington, DC and into communities throughout the country.

Given the momentum we have gained from Opening Doors and the USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness, the RHY conference was ripe with opportunity to build more commitment and enthusiasm for the work ahead. The USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness held a prominent spot on the conference agenda at a luncheon keynote session. Jennifer Ho provided an energetic keynote address about ending youth homelessness. She discussed two complementary strategies—getting better data on youth and building service capacity—included in the Youth Framework and explained why these strategies are important to our goal of ending youth homelessness.

Following Jennifer’s address, Matthew Morton from ACYF, Commissioner’s Office, provided an in-depth look at how we can get better data on youth homelessness by starting with HUD’s 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) count. HUD’s PIT Count is the main source of data used to track progress against the goals in Opening Doors. We recognize that the PIT count has limitations and is not the only source of data on youth homelessness; complementary methods, such as the integration of data systems and a national study, are also needed to get to a confident estimate of the number of youth experiencing homelessness.

The 2013 PIT count is a means to collect data on the numbers and characteristics of homeless youth, but it also provides an opportunity to learn how to increase collaboration among homeless youth service providers and what strategies work best when counting homeless youth. To take advantage of this opportunity, USICH and its federal partners, including ACYF/HHS, HUD, and ED launched Youth Count!, an interagency initiative to develop promising strategies for counting unaccompanied homeless youth through innovative implementations of HUD’s PIT count. The goal of this initiative is to learn promising strategies for conducting: 1) collaborative PIT counts of unaccompanied homeless youth that engage Continuums of Care (CoC), Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) providers, local education agencies (LEAs) homeless, and other local stakeholders; and 2) credible PIT counts that gather reliable data on unaccompanied homeless youth. The intent is that this initiative will help to inform future national guidance on youth strategies for PIT counts and to foster meaningful partnerships between homeless service providers, school districts, and other mainstream service providers.

I recognize that, for many, it can be difficult to feel committed and enthusiastic about getting better data on youth homelessness because the idea seems very abstract and removed from the work that is happening in communities. Although getting better data on youth homelessness may not be the most exciting aspect of our work, a perhaps a little geeky, it is a critical step that will help to move us closer to ending youth homelessness. Better data will inform future research on youth homelessness, identify best practices and effective models of intervention, and highlight where there are gaps in the service delivery system. I encourage you to keep the momentum going for ending youth homelessness by getting in touch with your “geeky” side participating in your community’s PIT count. Let’s keep the momentum going!

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