We who live in the District of Columbia have been engaged in a lively discussion (euphemism) about the 2013-14 Winter Plan for homeless youth and children who aren’t with a parent or other adult caregiver.
Now we have some first-time-ever figures on homeless unaccompanied young people. The most detailed are nationwide. But we also get totals for states, the District and communities of several sorts whose totals were highest.
The figures are all part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which reflects the results of last January’s point-in-time counts, i.e. the one-night censuses conducted by Continuums of Care (the technical name for the planning entities in communities that receive homeless assistance grants).
Generally speaking, we need to take PIT figures with a grain of salt because much depends on how each CoC goes about conducting its census.
And whatever their methods, it’s reasonable to believe that the counts miss some homeless people whose only shelter is what they manage to find — or create — for themselves.
We need also to recall that the legislation governing the HUD grants — and thus the data collected — generally excludes people, including children and youth, who are living in motels or doubled-up with friends or relatives because they can’t afford a home of their own.
Perhaps we should add another grain of salt for the homeless youth count because CoCs never had to do it before. And they faced new challenges.
For example, the places they’re used to looking for homeless people aren’t where they’re likely to find homeless kids, as an Urban Institute assessment of homeless youth counts says.
And, of course, many of the kids don’t want to be found because they fear they’ll be returned to the families they fled or put into foster care.
CoCs addressed the challenges in different ways — some more aggressively and strategically than others, the Institute’s report suggests.
So with all these caveats, here’s what the AHAR tells us.
At some point last January, there were 46,924 unaccompanied children and youth up to the age of 24.* They represented about 7.7% of all the homeless people counted.
By far and away the largest number were in the 18 to 24 age range — 40,727 or 86.8% of the whole subgroup. Nearly two-thirds (66.2%) of all youth, so defined, were unaccompanied.
All but 4.5% of the children counted were in a family “household.” Which leaves 6,197 who’d left their families or been kicked out of their homes.
Half the unaccompanied children and youth were found unsheltered, i.e., in a park, bus station or, in HUD’s inimitable phrasing, some other place “not ordinarily designed for or used as a sleeping accommodation for human beings.”
The unsheltered rate for unaccompanied children was higher — 59.2%. This is far higher than the unsheltered rate for all people counted, by about 24%, as well as somewhat higher than the rate for unaccompanied youth.
Here in the District, the count reportedly turned up a total of 164 unaccompanied children and youth. No breakouts in the AHAR.
The District’s CoC report to HUD, however, identifies six unaccompanied children and says all of them were in emergency shelter. Only eighteen unaccompanied youth in the 18 to 24 age bracket were unsheltered on the count night, it says.
I’d like to think this is accurate, but have my doubts. That’s all they are, however. So I’ll forgo elaboration.
I understand discussion will soon be under way to improve the District’s homeless unaccompanied child and youth count. It will be interesting to see what next year’s figures look like.
In the meantime, the top priority is to ensure that every one of the unaccompanied young people, however many there are, have shelter or housing this winter. The rest of the year too.
* The AHAR defines the subgroup as “under the age of 25.” And the graphs identify youth as “18-24.” However, both the text and HUD PIT guidance use the phrase “to 24.” So it seems more likely than not that the PIT homeless youth counts did not include 24-year-olds.