Study Suggests That Homeless Youth Counts Need Improvement


A new study by the social research firm Urban Institute suggests more work needs to be done to better count homeless youth.

Homeless youth are often hard to identify, because they either don’t want to be found or they’re couch surfing. They’re at a high risk of sexual or physical exploitation and falling into criminal activity.

The Urban Institute says that nationwide, the homeless youth count needs to be improved. It suggests engaging young people to help find hidden populations. With a more accurate count, it says, communities can provide better prevention services.

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Tim Baack, the executive vice president of a Milwaukee-based youth and family crisis organization called Pathfinders, says to more accurately count homeless youth, the federal government should expand its definition of homeless and include the most common scenario: couch surfing.

“Often, when we are engaged with them, they will not know where later that evening they are going to be able to find a place to spend the night,” says Baack.

The study also suggests that more LGBT groups should become engaged in preventing youth homelessness. A Cream City Foundation study found 23 percent of Milwaukee homeless youth identified as LGBT – a disproportionate number.

Andre Olton, the executive director of Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center in Milwaukee, says LGBT youth often face rejection from their families when they come out.

“Sometimes parents will just say, ‘Get out of my house!’ and literally push their youth out,” says Olton.

The federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act – which provides money to groups like Olton’s – is up for reauthorization in Congress this year.