The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

An Innovative Method for Counting Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Riverview, Lower Parking Level, Elevator Level P1 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Hailey Winetrobe, MPH, CHES, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Eric Rice, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Harmony Rhoades, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose:  Estimates of the number of unaccompanied homeless youth (13-25 years old) in the United States are outdated and conservative.  Strategies used to count homeless adults are inappropriate for the homeless youth population, as youth are hidden, blend into the general adolescent population, and less likely to identify as homeless.  The U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness identifies homeless youth census strategies as a top priority.  In collaboration with the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership (HHYP), we conducted a one-week, agency-based point-in-time estimate (PIT) of Hollywood homeless youth.

Methods:  We utilized a two-pronged approach: 1) survey homeless youth at agencies (i.e., drop-in centers, shelters, health clinics) and 2) survey homeless youth on the streets.  Six Hollywood agencies participated, including three that conduct street outreach.   A single recruiter was positioned at each agency and outreach team.  Each participant provided a unique identifier: the first three letters of his/her first name, the first three letters of his/her last name, and his/her date of birth.  This semi-anonymous identifier allowed us to determine overlap in service utilization and reduced repeated participation at a single site. 

As homeless youth may not use services on a daily basis, we determined a week-long approach would best capture the number of homeless youth in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, CA.  To determine a one-day prevalence of homelessness, we asked each participant to identify where he/she slept on Thursday, October 18, 2012.  The PIT count occurred between Friday, October 19 and Thursday October 25, 2012.  Most volunteer interviewers were MSW students.

Participants were asked about their past month and past year literal homelessness experiences (i.e., staying in an emergency shelter, public place, abandoned building, street/outside, underground, stranger’s home), lifetime history (e.g., schooling, military, pregnancy, foster care, juvenile justice system and jail/prison stays), and demographic characteristics.

Results:  460 unique homeless youth were identified.  Twenty-nine percent reported sleeping outside, in an abandoned building, vehicle, public place, stranger’s home, or someplace underground; and 23% stayed in an emergency shelter.  In total, 222 youth (48%) reported a literal homelessness experience on October 18th, 317 in the previous 30 days, and 381 in the prior 12 months.  Of those who experienced past-year literal homelessness, 36% identified as Black, 22% as mixed race, 20% as white, and 16% as Hispanic/Latino.  Thirty-seven percent identified as non-heterosexual.  Almost 40% did not receive a high school diploma/GED, 44% were ever in the foster care, 36% were ever in the juvenile justice system, and 50% had ever been in jail/prison.  Furthermore, 34% had ever been pregnant or impregnated someone, 20% ever had a child, and 7% currently had a child staying with them.

Conclusions and Implications:  An agency-based, week-long PIT census was successful in identifying the number of and basic characteristics of homeless youth in a specific geographic area.  These findings stress the need for increased funding and programming for homeless youth services due to the large number of homeless youth and their poor social histories.