Service providers in King County, Seattle hosted slumber parties. Folks in Cleveland set up in a storefront at a mall. In Houston, the Texas Homeless Education Office coordinated the participation of 17 schools in eight school districts. How will you make sure youth are included in your community’s annual point-in-time (PIT) count?
Youth are a unique group, with a particular set of experiences and survival strategies that require targeted counting methods. Before attempting to count the number of youth experiencing homelessness in your community, it’s important to devise a specific plan that utilizes existing resources and is catered to your community’s unique circumstances.
The Urban Institute conducted a process evaluation of the recent Youth Count! initiative, which can help you identify promising strategies for counting youth in your community. Magnet events like slumber parties and other gatherings, as well as partnering with schools and community organizations like libraries, were two commonly utilized strategies. These strategies were successful in some communities, and posed challenges in others. A few of the important things to consider when planning magnet events and identifying community partners include: location, perception of safety, and access to basic needs.
Location: When identifying sites to participate in your youth PIT count, it is important to make sure those locations are close to public transportation and are in areas where youth typically hang out. Setting up a location in each type of area (close to public transportation and hang out spots) may enable more young people to be counted. Also, can you provide a bus pass to youth prior to the count and upon their completion of the survey?
Safety: The way that you conceptualize safety and the way that youth experiencing homelessness think about safety may vary. One example is police presence. For youth experiencing homelessness, traveling to locations where security guards or police officers keep watch may be a significant deterrent to participation. This may be especially true for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth (LGBTQ), trafficked youth, and undocumented youth – all subpopulations that we need to ensure are represented in our PIT counts.
Access to basic needs: Think about hosting events that can also help meet the young people’s basic needs. Are you able to offer a meal, access to a food pantry, toiletries, showers, or a bed for the night? It is important that we think about counting the youth who are already engaged with service providers and also those who are not.
The above considerations are important for counting all youth. Additional considerations exist when thinking about how to reach lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. They are:
Engage LGBTQ partners: Identify an LGBTQ serving organization in your community and invite them to the planning table. These providers can be instructive about how to find LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, how to promote the count within the LGBTQ community, how to create an environment where LGBTQ youth feel welcome, and they may also provide an additional pool of volunteers needed to conduct the count.
Involve LGBTQ youth: Bring all youth, including LGBTQ youth, to the planning table. LGBTQ youth can provide guidance about how to locate, identify, and engage other LGBTQ youth.
Provide a visual sign of inclusion: LGBTQ youth may have experienced repeated rejection based solely on how they identify. As such, they may be less likely to self-identify as LGBTQ when participating in the PIT count. You can provide a visual cue that you and your organization are safe, inclusive, and affirming. This may be in the form of a sticker on the back of the survey administrator’s clip board, or a poster inside the organization/community space.
Train staff and volunteers on the importance of asking about sexual orientation and gender identity: According to the Youth Count! Process Study, some interviewers reported being uncomfortable asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly the question about gender identity. It is important that those administering the survey understand why these questions are important and are comfortable asking them.
Including youth in your community’s PIT count is an important first step toward getting better data on youth. The development of appropriate supports and systems of care for homeless youth is dependent upon accurate information about the prevalence, characteristics and needs of the population of youth experiencing homelessness. This includes obtaining a clearer picture of subpopulations within the homeless youth population, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
Learn more about the work of the Forty to None Network, an online community connecting service providers, educators, researchers, government officials, funders, advocates, young people, and others around the issue of youth experiencing homelessness. Also, check out Youth Count! to get informed and get involved in ensuring that all youth count!